Cairo is a city located in Alexander County, Illinois. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 3,632. It is the county seat of Alexander County. The city's name is pronounced differently from the English name for the Egyptian city of the same name: IPA /'ke??o?/ listen. Cairo is located about an hour south of Carbondale, the site of the main campus of Southern Illinois University.
Cairo is located by the juncture of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River; it is the southernmost town in the state of Illinois. The rivers converge at a point at what is the southernmost point in Illinois at Fort Defiance Park, a Civil War fort which was commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant. Cairo was founded as a town in 1818 and incorporated as a city in 1858. Cairo was an important steamboat port in the nineteenth century; it even had its own Customs House which has since been converted into a museum. The town has a number of fine examples of prosperous nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century architecture, much of it abandoned and in a bad state of decay. The population of Cairo has been in decline every decade since the 1920s—in 1920: 15,203; in 1940: 14,407; 1950: 12,123. At the Cairo High School graduation in 1990, the school principal advised the graduating class to leave town, as Cairo had nothing to offer them.
In 1969, Cairo, the only segregated town in the state of Illinois, was the site of an intense civil rights struggle. The threat of violence resulted in the National Guard being called in to restore order. Businesses were also the subject of a boycott organized by the United Front civil rights movement as a form of protest. Despite the eventual desegregation of the town, the racial tension were never truly resolved and the subject is still a source of contention within the town.
Cairo today faces a number of serious issues, including poverty, teenage pregnancy, education, a lack of jobs, and poor access to health services.
Web Sites and Links
Cairo Baptist ChurchNewsletter, contact information, and schedule of events. Affiliated with American Baptist Church, USA.