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East St. Louis is a city located in St. Clair County, Illinoismarker, USA, directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missourimarker. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 31,542, less than half its peak in 1950. Like many larger industrial cities, it has been severely affected by loss of jobs in the restructuring of the railroad industry and deindustrialization of the Rust Belt in the second half of the 20th century.

One of the highlights of the city's waterfront is the Gateway Geysermarker, the tallest fountain in the United Statesmarker. Designed to complement the Gateway Archmarker across the river in St. Louismarker, it shoots water to a height of , the same height as the arch.


Native Americans long inhabited both sides of the Mississippi River at this point. Mound builders of the Mississippian culture constructed mounds at what became St. Louismarker and East St. Louis, as well as the large settlement of Cahokiamarker to the north of East St. Louismarker near present day Collinsville, Illinoismarker.

East St. Louismarker lies within the American Bottom area of the present day Metro-East area of St. Louis, Missourimarker.

After European settlement, East St. Louis' original name was "Illinoistown."

Several destructive tornadoes have hit East St. Louis, the deadliest being the St. Louis-East St. Louis Tornado of 1896, which killed at least 255, injured over 1000, and incurred an estimated $2.9 billion in damages (1997 USD).

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the St. Louis commune

A period of extensive industrial growth followed the American Civil War. Industries located in East St. Louis to make use of the local availability of Illinois coal as fuel. Another early industry was meatpacking and stockyards, concentrated in one area to limit their nuisance to other jurisdictions.

In the expansion, many businessmen became overextended in credit, and a major economic collapse followed the Panic of 1873. This was due to railroad and other manufacturing expansion, land speculation and general business optimism caused by large profits from inflation. The economic recession began in the East and steadily moved west, severely crippling the railroads, the main system of transportation. In response to the difficulties, railroad companies began dramatically lowering workers' wages, forcing employees to work without pay, and cutting jobs and the amount of paid work hours. These wage cuts and additional money-saving tactics used by the industry prompted strikes and unrest on a massive scale.

While most of the strikes in the eastern cities during 1877 were accompanied by violence and mayhem, the late July 1877 St. Louismarker strike was marked by a bloodless, efficient and quick take-over of commerce and transportation in the area by dissatisfied workers. By July 22, the St. Louis Commune began to take shape as representatives from almost all the railroad lines met in East St. Louis. They soon elected an executive committee to command the strike and issued General Order No. 1, halting all railroad traffic other than passenger and mail trains. John Bowman, the mayor of East St. Louis, was appointed arbitrator of the committee. He helped the committee select special police to guard the property of the railroads from damage. The strike and the new de facto workers' government, while given encouragement by the largely German-American Workingmen's Party and the Knights of Labor (two key players in the organization of the Missouri general strike), were run by no organized labor group.

The strike reached the business sector by closing packing industry houses surrounding the National Stockyards. At one plant, workers allowed processing of 125 cattle in return for 500 cans of beef for the workers. The strike continued to gain momentum, with different regions and workers asking to join in. Though the East St. Louis strike continued in an orderly fashion, across the river there were isolated incidents of violence. Harry Eastman, the East St. Louis workers' representative, addressed the mass of employees: "Go home to your different wards and organize your different unions, but don't keep coming up here in great bodies and stirring up excitement. Ask the Mayor, as we did, to close up all the saloons... keep sober and orderly, and when you are organized, apply to the United Workingmen for orders. Don't plunder ... don't interfere with the railroads here ... let us attend to that".

On July 28 the strike was peacefully ended when US troops took over the Relay Depot, the Commune's command center.

The East St. Louis riots of 1917

East St. Louis in 1917 had a strong industrial economy boosted by World War I. Many workers entered the military and the other workers who were left went on strike. The war prevented immigration from Europe. Major companies recruited black migrants from the South to work at the Aluminum Ore Company and the American Steel Company. They were available because the US Army initially rejected many black volunteers in the years before an integrated military. Resentment on both sides and the arrival of new workers created fears for job security and raised social tensions. At a white labor meeting on May 28, men traded rumors of black men's and white women's fraternizing. Three thousand white men left the meeting and headed as a mob for the downtown, where they randomly attacked black men on the street. They destroyed buildings and physically attacked people, but no one was killed. The governor called in National Guard to prevent further rioting, but rumors continued to circulate about an organized retaliation from the blacks.

On July 1, 1917, a black man attacked a white man. Whites drove by shooting in retaliation. When police came to investigate, the black attacker proceeded to fire on the police and wounded at least one. The next morning, thousands of white spectators marched into the black section of town. The rioters burned entire sections of the city and shot blacks as they escaped the flames. They also lynched several blacks.

Although the governor had called in the National Guard to try to control the situation, several accounts reported that they joined in the rioting. The mob included "ten or fifteen white women, [who] chased a negro woman at the Relay Depot in broad daylight. The girls were brandishing clubs and calling upon the men to kill the woman." 2 The woman was a known prostitute frequented by white men.

Recent history

East St. Louis was named an All-America City in 1958, having retained prosperity through the decade as its population reached a peak of 82,295 residents. Through the 1950s and later, the city's musicians were an integral creative force in blues, rock and roll and jazz. Some left and achieved national recognition, like Ike and Tina Turner and jazz great Miles Davis, who was born in nearby Alton and grew up in East St. Louis. Many were featured on the PBS series River of Song in 1999, covering music of cities along the Mississippi River.

The city was dramatically affected by mid-century deindustrialization and restructuring. As a number of local factories began to close because of changes in industry, the railroad and meatpacking industries also were cutting back and moving jobs out of the region. This led to a precipitous loss of working and middle-class jobs. The city's financial conditions deteriorated. Elected in 1951, Mayor Alvin Fields resorted to ill-judged funding procedures to try to buy the city out of its financial morass. The scheme increased the city's bonded indebtedness and the property tax rate. More businesses closed as workers left the area to seek jobs in other regions. Crime increased as a result of poverty and lack of opportunities. The city is also left with expensive clean-up of brownfields, areas with environmental contamination by heavy industry that makes redevelopment more difficult.

Street gangs such as the War Lords, Black Egyptians, 29th Street Stompers and Hustlers appeared in city neighborhoods. Like other cities with endemic problems by the 1960s, East St. Louis suffered riots in the latter part of the decade. In September 1967, rioting occurred in the city's South End. Also, in the summer of 1968, a still-unsolved series of sniping attacks took place. These events contributed to residential mistrust and adversely affected the downtown retail base and the city's income.

Construction of freeways and urban sprawl contributed to East St. Louis' decline as well. The freeways cut through and broke up existing neighborhoods and community networks. The freeways also made it easier for residents to commute back and forth from suburban homes, so more people moved up to newer housing. East St. Louis adopted a number of programs to try to reverse decline — the Model Cities program, the Concentrated Employment Program and Operation Breakthrough. The programs were not enough to offset the industrial restructuring.

In 1971, James Williams was elected as the city's first black mayor. Faced with overwhelming economic problems, he was unable to stop the city's decline and depopulation. By the election of Carl Officer as mayor (the youngest in the country at that time at age 25) in 1979, many said the city had nowhere to go but up, yet things grew worse. Middle-class whites and blacks left the city. People who could get jobs simply went to where there was work and decent quality of life. Because the city had to cut back on maintenance, sewers failed and garbage pickup ceased. Police cars often did not work, and neither did their radios. The East St. Louis Fire Department went on strike in the 1970s.

Before Gordon Bush was elected mayor in 1991, the state imposed a financial advisory board to manage the city in exchange for a financial bailout. State legislative approval in 1990 of riverboat gambling and the installation of the Casino Queen riverboat casino provided the first new source of income for the city in nearly 30 years.

The past decade can be characterized as one of redevelopment and renewal. In 2001 the city completed a new library. It also built a new city hall. Public-private partnerships have resulted in a variety of new retail developments, housing initiatives, and the St. Louis Metrolinkmarker light rail, which have sparked renewal. Access to the Metrolink from the East Side has become a controversy in the Saint Louis Metro Area, as a 2008 article in the Riverfront Times stated that it has resulted in skyrocketing crime rates on the west side of the River in affluent suburbs.

The city, now small in terms of population, is a prime example of drastic urban blight. Sections of "urban prairie" can be found where vacant buildings were torn down and whole blocks became overgrown with vegetation. Much of the territory surrounding the city remains undeveloped, bypassed for growth in more affluent suburban areas. Many old, "inner city" neighborhoods abut large swaths of corn and soybean fields or otherwise vacant land. In addition to agricultural uses, a number of truck stops, strip clubs, and semi-rural businesses surround blighted areas in the city as well.

In August 2008 at a RoCorp chemical plant, there was spillage of a toxic industrial material that seriously sickened several people and caused at least two area emergency rooms to be quarantined. The incident involved a release of nitroaniline.


East St. Louis township.
East St. Louis is located at 38°36'56" North, 90°7'40" West (38.615550, -90.127825).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 14.4 square miles (37.4 km²), of which, 14.1 square miles (36.4 km²) of it is land and 0.4 square miles (1.0 km²) of it is water. The total area is 2.56% water.

East St. Louis usually experiences cold winters and hot summers. On July 14, 1954 the temperature at East Saint Louis reached 117 °F (48 °C), the highest temperature ever recorded in Illinois.


East St. Louis is home to four St. Louis MetroLinkmarker stations; East Riverfrontmarker, 5th & Missourimarker, Emerson Parkmarker, and JJK Centermarker.

Interstate 55, Interstate 64, Interstate 70, and US Highway 40 run concurrently through East St. Louis and are linked to St. Louis by the Poplar Street Bridgemarker. Prior to its decommissioning, the fabled Route 66 also shared a concurrence with these Interstate highways. In addition, US Highway 50 also shared a concurrence prior to its being rerouting and concurrence with Interstate 255.


As of the census of 2000, there were 31,542 people, 11,178 households, and 7,668 families residing in the city. The population density is 2,242.9 people per square mile (866.2/km²). There are 12,899 housing units at an average density of 917.2/sq mi (354.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.74% African-American, 1.23% Caucasian-American, 0.19% Native American, 0.08% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.19% from other races, and 0.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.73% of the population.

There are 11,178 households out of which 33.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 21.9% are married couples living together, 40.6% have a female householder with no husband present, and 31.4% are non-families. 27.8% of all households are made up of individuals and 10.4% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.80 and the average family size is 3.42.

In the city the population is spread out with 32.8% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 24.6% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 12.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 81.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 72.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $21,324, and the median income for a family is $24,567. Males have a median income of $27,864 versus $21,850 for females. The per capita income for the city is $11,169. 35.1% of the population and 31.8% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 48.6% of those under the age of 18 and 25.2% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


The city is served by the East St. Louis School District 189 [17130].

All residents are zoned to East St. Louis High Schoolmarker.

Famous residents

Registered historic places

East St. Louis in popular culture


  • In the films Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), the character of Father Charles O'Malley (played by Bing Crosby) was from East St. Louis. He sang the "East St. Louis High" alma mater ("Hail alma mater, thy time-honored halls shall echo with our praise till we die, and round our hearts are the ivy-covered walls of East St. Louis High.") in Going My Way.

  • The 1992 film Trespass takes place almost entirely in East St. Louis.


East St. Louis has one of the highest crime rates in the United Statesmarker. According to FBImarker's data of 2007, its murder rate hit 101.9 per population of 100,000, surpassing that of cities such as Compton, Californiamarker (40.4 per pop. 100,000), Gary, Indianamarker (48.3 per pop. 100,000), New Orleans, Louisianamarker (37.6 per pop. 100,000), Richmond, Virginiamarker (38.8), Baltimore, Marylandmarker (43.3), Camden, New Jerseymarker (40.0), Detroit, Michiganmarker (47.3), and Washington, D.C.marker (29.1), as well as that of its neighbor St. Louis (37.2). FBI data also shows East St. Louis' high rate of rape, which exceeded 250 per population of 100,000.

East Saint Louis and Opa Locka, Floridamarker have the highest crime rates in the United States (Opa Locka had the absolute highest crime rate in 2003 and 2004 for cities of any population.)

The following table shows East St. Louis's crime rate in six crimes that Morgan Quitno uses for its calculation for "America's most dangerous cities" ranking, in comparison to the national average: Year: 2006 number of crimes per 100,000.

Crime East Saint Louis National average
Murder 101.9 5.6
Rape 251.3 32.2
Robbery 1,347.0 195.4
Assault 5,847.3 340.1
Burglary 2,442.8 814.5
Automobile theft 2,067.5 526.5


  • Heaps, Willard Allison. "Target of Prejudice: The Negro." Riots, U.S.A., 1765–1970. New York: The Seabury Press, 1970. 108–117.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. "Life on the Mississippi." Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. Crown, 1991. 7–39. ISBN 0-517-58221-X
  • "Race Rioters Fire East St. Louis and Shoot or Hang Many Negroes; Dead Estimated at from 20 to 76." New York Times 3 July 1917.

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