Slavery, Race, and the Law in Southern Illinois | School of Law | SIU

Southern Illinois University



Slavery, Race, and the Law in Southern Illinois | School of Law | SIU

Slavery, Race, and the Law in Southern Illinois


During the spring semester of 2021 a group of students from the SIU School of Law joined by a student from the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts worked individually and in pairs to explore the historical connections between slavery, race, and the law in Southern Illinois, focusing on a particular location or event, and prepared summaries of what they learned to share. Links to their work product appear below with brief introductions to each.

Faculty members in the School of Law offered support and will build on the start offered by the project through related scholarship to be posted here in the months and years to come, and through their teaching. A new class on law, slavery, and local history has already been approved for the fall 2021 semester as an initial outgrowth, to be taught by Assistant Professor (former Lieutenant Governor) Sheila Simon

We anticipated at the onset of the project the student participants and others reviewing their findings might be surprised by some of what they would learn. It is easy living in Southern Illinois to think most of the awful types of discrimination and racial violence occurred elsewhere. As noted by SIU School of Law Dean Camile Davidson, “our history reminds us where we’ve been and helps inform what steps we need to take to move forward.” \We hope the information shared here stirs our students and others to think about the role law and lawyers have played in the past and can potentially play in the future confronting race related issues in our nation.

This project was funded by a “HEALING ILLINOIS: Building a Bridge to a Racially Equitable Illinois” grant, a racial healing initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), in partnership with The Chicago Community Trust, subcontracting locally through the Southern Illinois Community Foundation (SICF). All grant funds were used to pay small honorariums to each of the participating students. The University waived all administrative fees.


Slavery, Salt, and Equality, by Caitlin Burklow (Class of 2022) – explores the use of slave labor in the salt industry, related accumulation of wealth and political influence, and the presence of active southern (i.e. Confederate) sympathizers in Gallatin County Illinois.

Lincoln-Douglas Jonesboro Debate, by Sophia Allen (Class of 2023) and Matthew Cook (Class of 2023) – exploring the genesis of the September 15, 1858 debate between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in Jonesboro, their positions on slavery and race relations, and the selection of the site as one with strong southern sympathies.

When Miners Strike, by Corral Serrano (Class of 2022) and Joseph Tondini (Class of 2022) – explores intersections between labor unrest, race relations, and rural law enforcement in Williamson County Illinois.

Sundown Towns, by Michael Cook (Class of 2023) and Sayna Parsi (Class of 2023) – explores the existence of communities where, by law or custom, African Americans were not welcome and the history of such communities in Southern Illinois.

White Rage: The East St. Louis Massacre, by Jerricha Griffin (Class of 2021) – exploring the origins and details of the 1917 riotous attack in St. Claire County.