The village of Brooklyn, Illinois, gets some respect. Finally.

Week of November 9, 2006

Brooklyn, Illinois

Hey Joe: Here's something about Brooklyn, Illinois, that I wanted to pass along to you. It's from the Congressional Record of the Illinois House of Representatives from this past June 28, 2006.

Elmer "Carl" Officer, East St. Louis

It's one heck of a piece about Brooklyn, especially because Brooklyn has gotten such negative publicity. It is very good. Thank you for sharing it:

"Mr. Costello. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing the 133rd anniversary of the incorporation of the Village of Brooklyn, Illinois, the first and oldest African-American town in the United States. Around the year 1829, a group of 11 African-American families, some free, some fugitive slaves, crossed the Mississippi River from Missouri and settled in the area that would become Brooklyn, Illinois. The community continued to grow as it attracted both escaped slaves and free African Americans from the St. Louis area and neighboring states. The thriving settlement was platted and named, Brooklyn, in 1837.

"During Brooklyn's early years, before the Civil War, African-Americans had no ability to vote or petition for the incorporation of their community. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution in 1865, the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 and the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, African Americans gained the legal rights of citizenship. Shortly after these events, on July 8, 1873, the citizens of Brooklyn petitioned to incorporate. An election was called and, by unanimous vote, Brooklyn was incorporated as a village in St. Clair County, Illinois.

"The history of Brooklyn has roughly paralleled that of neighboring municipalities in the industrial area along the Mississippi River, across from St. Louis. Many of its residents readily found work in the stockyards and factories that flourished into the middle of the last century. As those industries left, so did the jobs that allowed the citizens of Brooklyn to provide for their families.

"Despite recent hard times, the same spirit that led those first courageous settlers to establish this community still lives on. The village motto is 'Founded by Change, Sustained by Courage,' and those words inspire the current generation to seek new opportunities for their community. The 'North Star' Corridor Economic Alliance Project is one example of a new implementation of the community's founding values.

"Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in celebrating the 133rd anniversary of the Village of Brooklyn, Illinois, and to wish them the best as they move forward in the years to come."

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

Scroll to read more Ask a Negro Leaguer articles


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.