Last week, Redditor inkslave found himself in Cairo Illinois, an abandoned ghost-town that had fallen to utter ruin. After coming up blank on Wikipedia and Google, he asked Reddit just what happened to Cairo — and got an immediate answer from a scholar who wrote his master's thesis on the subject:
Looking at a map of the USA, you'd think there would be a booming city at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In the late 19th century, Cairo was a booming town, known as a railroad and river traffic hub with the untamed culture you'd expect from a northern New Orleans. Even though Cairo is in Illinois, it is the state's southern-most city and is actually further south than Richmond, Virginia. Its white-black race dynamic was as paternalistic as any in the "south," and its civil rights history was very violent. Though most people blame the violence in the 1960s and 70s for Cairo's economic decline, I found that it was really part of a general decline throughout the 20th century.
The religious element in Cairo was able to ban gambling and prostitution in the late 19th century, so part of the allure of a northern New Orleans was lost and a vibrant industry was snuffed out. Then, the decline of the railroad and river traffic industries really ruined the town. In my research I found that the economic boycott in the 60s and 70s (many white business owners chose to close their businesses and move away rather than hire black employees) was really the final death knell of a town that had already been in decline since the 1920s, well before the Great Depression.
(via Warren Ellis)