Brooklyn, Illinois: 2023 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois

“Brooklyn is a beautiful place that many don’t know exists. Brooklyn continues to remain strong despite challenges and its continued existence serves as an example of tenacity, hope and relentlessness. To fully understand the ‘no surrender’ attitude of Brooklyn, it’s important to know the town’s history of self-determination. The seed of courage was planted long ago by freedwomen and men and must be nurtured today if Brooklyn is to survive. Our ancestors labored diligently and passed the baton for us to advance their efforts forward. Brooklyn is deserving of the honor, recognition, care and respect for the rich contribution that the village has added to local, state and national history.”

-Robert White III, Historical Society of Brooklyn, Illinois


The town of Brooklyn in St. Clair County is located 3 miles north of East St. Louis on Illinois Route 3. It is also located east of St. Louis, Missouri, directly across the Mississippi River.


Settled 1829. Officially incorporated 1873.

(Photo credit: Jennifer Colten)


Brooklyn, Illinois, is the oldest — and one of the last remaining — majority-Black incorporated towns in the country. Oral history suggests that in 1829, Priscilla “Mother” Baltimore, a free Black woman, led 11 Black families out of Missouri into Illinois. These first settlers established a freedom village directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Its relative seclusion and proximity to the state border made it an effective safe haven for people escaping slavery. Two of the town’s churches also served as Underground Railroad sites. The African- and European-American residents of Brooklyn voted to incorporate in 1873, making it the first legally recognized majority-Black town. Today, the small commuter town of 600 residents boasts the town motto, “Founded by Chance, Sustained by Courage.”

(Photo credit: Jennifer Colten)


At one time there were hundreds of Black enclaves, settlements, and towns — some legally recognized, some not — in America. Today, Brooklyn is one of only a handful that survives as a living community. Although residents of Brooklyn are proud of their town’s legacy, Brooklyn’s story has not yet received the recognition it deserves. The small town’s future is threatened by a declining population, high unemployment and a limited economy and tax base. Additionally, in recent years the village has sold off dozens of parcels of land to the Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific railroads, whose tracks separate Brooklyn from the riverbank.

(Photo credit: Miranda Yancey, Illinois State Museum)


There are numerous organizations, stakeholders and institutions seeking a better future for Brooklyn. These entities should form a coalition to create a long-term plan to honor Brooklyn’s historic significance and ensure its continued existence through historic commemoration and economic development measures. Brooklyn belongs on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation will help the town gain the national attention it deserves and improve its access to funding for preservation initiatives. The Village of Brooklyn should place a moratorium on all future land sales to the railroads to preserve Brooklyn’s remaining physical presence.

(Photo credit: Miranda Yancey, Illinois State Museum)


  • Contact Robert White with the Historical Society of Brooklyn to see how you join the expansive network working to preserve Brooklyn’s rich history. Email to express your interest and offer assistance.
  • Contact Brooklyn Mayor Vera Glasper Banks to encourage her to not negotiate any future land sales. Email to share your thoughts.

(Photo: EBONY Magazine, 1952)

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