Black towns, settlements and enclaves settled before the Civil War are becoming a hot topic – and not a moment too soon. As evidence of their existence fades almost completely from view if not from memory, these towns and spaces are being rescued and re-imagined by archaeologists, historians and increasingly by preservationists.
Brooklyn, Illinois along the Mississippi River is one such place. Archaeologists are digging for evidence of a home owned by Priscilla "Mother" Baltimore who founded the settlement in 1829. Baltimore had not only been enslaved in Missouri, she transcended the wounds and deprivations of slavery to become a well-known abolitionist. She never forgot her experiences with slavery and using both the settlement and her home, she sheltered runaways escaping bondage. This is the home that is at the center of the archaeological search. The town Mother Baltimore founded ended up becoming the first in the nation to be incorporated with a black-majority population.
On Tuesday, at 6:35 and 8:35 a.m., and 4:45 p.m. Dr. Cheryl LaRoche, author of “Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance” will be part of a radio program on St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU with Science, Environment and Health Reporter, Véronique C. LaCapra, Ph.D. As part of the program, Dr. La Roche will speak about her work and her thoughts about Brooklyn, archaeology, and African American history.
For further reading, see “America’s First Black Town: Brooklyn, Illinois 1830-1915 by Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua.