8th Grade Novels‎ > ‎The Watsons‎ > ‎

Cairo, Illinois


War in Little Egypt 
Violence is no stranger to Cairo 
(rhymes with Pharaoh), Ill., a decaying 
former riverboat port at the confluence 
of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Below the Mason-Dixon Line and closer 
to Little Rock than Chicago in attitude 
as well as mileage, the capital of the 
state's "Little Egypt" section is a thoroughly Southern town. Its 4,000 white 
citizens are determined to  maintain the 
local system of apartheid over the town's 
4,000 blacks that has persisted since before the Civil War. 
White Cairoites responded with cross 
burnings and shotgun blasts when blacks 
attempted to integrate local schools in 
1952, clubbings when they sought admittance to a community roller rink 
ten years later, and fire-bombings when 
they demanded appointment of a black 
police official in 1967. Last week violence erupted again in Cairo as blacks 
continued to seek a fuller share in the 
life of their tiny community. 
Short-Lived  Peace. Cairo's latest troubles began earlier this year when the 
Rev. Gerald Montroy, a white Catholic 
priest, arrived in town from East St. 
Louis and took up his duties in the 
heart of a black neighborhood. He drew 
together the local  N.A.A.C.P.,  a cooperative association and a couple of street 
gangs, and with the Rev. Charles Koen, 
a local black minister, formed the United Front. 
The new coalition charged intimidation of the black community by the 
"White Hats," a 600-member vigilante 
outer' formed  and deputized during the 
1967 disturbances. It also presented city 
officials with a list of seven demands, including appointment of a black police 
chief and assistant fire chief and a near 
equal black-white ratio in all city jobs
The demands and a boycott used to dramatize them touched of a rash of snipings, which ended only after Illinois 
Governor Richard Ogilvie sent in National Guardsmen to keep the peace. 
The peace was short-lived. A new 
wave of fire-bombings swept the town 
early this summer, forcing the resignation of Police Chief Carl Cutts. The 
new chief, William Petersen, made some 
progress toward cooling the conflict 
when  he  took away the deputy status 
that had been granted the White Hats. 
The group disbanded, but resurfaced almost immediately in a new organization, 
the United Citizens for conrs 
don. veliO.Se-Tadef,urrRai= 
Cunnin ham, is considered excessively 
racist even y local white supremacists. 
Headed for Anarchy,  Already high, 
tensions exploded when the City Council forbade assemblies of more than 
two persons  anywhere in  town. United 
Front lawyers went before a federal district court seeking an injunction to strike 
down the ordinance, and scores of blacks 
gathered at Montroy's church for a 
march on police headquarters. When 
club-wielding state and local police drove 
them back into the all-Negro Pyramid 
Courts housing project, weapons appeared in black and white hands, and 
Cairo seemed headed for anarchy. 
In a futile effort to quiet matters, 
Chief Petersen and Mayor Lee Stenzel 
resigned. Their action prompted Cunningham's group to cancel a planned 
rally, but failed to prevent shooting. Automatic rifle fire crackled through Pyramid Courts and two Negroes were 
slightly wounded. 
Even though Cairo's Negroes lost the 
skirmish, they may have won a larger 
battle. A federal judge struck down the 
town's anti-picketing ordinance and the 
Governor's office has promised Cairo 
an immediate grant of $290,000 for community projects. More important, the 
City Council, weary of both the tension and the fighting, voted to meet 
with "any interested parties," including 
the United Front, in search of a truce 
in Cairo's war between the races.  

What remain in Cairo, Illinois are many Sears Homes. Most are in marginal condition.
Sears House - The Rodessa - in Cairo.