Brooklyn “Lovejoy,” Illinois is a village in St. Clair County located two miles north of East St. Louis and three miles northeast of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It is thought to be the oldest town incorporated by African Americans in the United States.
The town was founded by freed and fugitive slaves from St. Louis led by Priscilla “Mother” Baltimore. A group of eleven black families were led from St. Louis across the Mississippi River to Illinois, which later became known as Brooklyn “Lovejoy,” Illinois. The town was also called “Lovejoy” in honor of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in nearby Alton, Illinois, in 1837.
Priscilla “Mother” Baltimore was a woman of all trades and worked in many different capacities. She worked as a chambermaid on steamships that traveled all along the Mississippi River. She also worked as a domestic nurse for prominent white citizens in St. Louis, and even co-founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Missouri and Illinois. “Mother” Baltimore was said to have purchased her freedom as an adult from her master. She later tracked her white father to Missouri and purchased her mother’s freedom as well.
“Mother” Baltimore later operated her own ferry service on the Mississippi River, transporting food and other goods along the body of water. She could move very easily between St. Louis and Illinois, and thus, was perfectly positioned to help freed slaves and fugitives escape to freedom. The African Americans who migrated to what became known as Brooklyn were attracted to the possibilities of working in an industrialized settlement that would enjoy race autonomy. In 1886, the African-American majority worked to register voters and gained political control of the village.
In the 21st century, residents rallied around new work related to documentation of Brooklyn’s rich historical past. They worked to collect oral histories and personal accounts of the village. In 2007, residents founded the Historical Society of Brooklyn, Illinois.