Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois: Creating Community, Demanding Justice

Series of paintings depicting the four sides of the public square in Springfield, Illinois. The paintings, which date to about 1854, are on display in the Old State Capital Historic Site. (Source: Digital images courtesy of Sangamon County Historical Society. Artist Unknown.)

The earliest Black residents of Illinois lived near the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, adjacent to the slave states just on the other side of them: Kentucky and Missouri. Black Illinoisans formed lasting communities and built a formidable protest movement, but they also contended with racist laws known as “black laws,” and everyday hostility from white residents.

Slavery and Racist Laws

Patterns of Black Settlement