America's First Black Town

America's First Black Town

Brooklyn, Illinois, 1830-1915

By Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua

University of Illinois Press, Paperback, 9780252070808, 296pp.

Publication Date: February 2002

"Founded by Chance, Sustained by Courage, " Brooklyn, Illinois, was a magnet for African Americans from its founding by free and fugitive blacks in the 1820s. Initially attractive to escaped slaves and others seeking to live in a black-majority town, Brooklyn later drew black migrants eager to commute to jobs in East St. Louis and other industrial centers.

In America's First Black Town, now in paperback for the first time, Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua traces Brooklyn's transformation from a freedom village into a residential commuter satellite. He examines why Brooklyn remained unindustrialized while factories and industrial complexes were built in nearly all the neighboring white-majority towns. As Brooklyn's population shifted toward single, male factory workers and as the city's cheaper retail businesses drew the town's consumer dollars, local businesses -- except those catering to nightlife and vice -- withered away.

Drawing on town records, regional and African American newspapers, census data, and other sources, Cha-Jua provides a detailed social and political history of America's first black town. He places Brooklyn in the context of black-town development and African American nationalism and documents the efforts of its citizens to build a thriving, autonomous, black-majority community. Challenging the scholarly assumptions that black political control necessarily leads to internal unity and economic growth, Cha-Jua confirms that, despite Brooklyn's heroic struggle for autonomy, black control was not enough to stem the corrosive tide of internal colonialism.

About the Author
SUNDIATA KEITA CHA-JUA is an associate professor of history at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.