By Herbert K. Russel
In The State of Southern Illinois: An Illustrated History, Herbert K. Russel offers a fresh interpretation of a number of important aspects of Southern Illinois History. Focusing on the area known as “Egypt,” the region south os U.S. Route 50 from Salem to Cairo, he begins his book with the earliest geologic formations and traces the area’s history into the twenty-first century. This volume is richly illustrated with color photographs and maps that highlight the informative and clearly written text.
Russel describes the state’s evolution from the ground up. He explains how the underlying geology as well as glaciers determined Southern Illinois’ destiny by contributing to the beauty of the region, influencing where future populations would make their homes, and laying the groundwork for industries such as railroads and coal mining. He continues with an extensive discussion of the first Southern Illinoisans, the Native Americans, and those who followed, including French and British settlers, free blacks, and whites escaping poverty in the southern portion of the United States.
Perhaps most notable is the author’s use of dozens of heretofore neglected sources to dispel the myth that Southern Illinois is merely an extension of Dixie. He corrects the popular impression that slavery was introduced by early settlers from the South and that a majority of Southern Illinoisans wished to secede during the civil war. Furthermore, he presents the first in-depth discussion of twelve pre-Civil War, free black communities in the region. He also identifies the role of coal-mining, labor violence, gangsters, and the media played in establishing the area’s image. He concludes optimistically, unveiling a twenty-first century Southern Illinois with myriad attractions and opportunities for citizens and tourists alike.
The State of Southern Illinois is the most accurate, all-encompassing volume of history on this unique area itself as a state within a state. It offers an entirely new perspective on race relations, provides insightful information on the cultural divide between north and south in Illinois, and pays tribute to an often neglected and misunderstood region of this multidimensional state, all against a stunning visual backdrop.
“The State of Southern Illinois: An Illustrated History presents, in a lively and well-written style, the history of Southern Illinois from prehistoric times to the present. This account is an important one since it treats Southern Illinois as an almost separate section of the state, but a significant and somewhat neglected and misunderstood section. The illustrations are just as important as the text; they beautifully complement each other and will surely capture the attention of those interested in a broad sweep of history covering the southern region of Illinois.”
—Rand Burnette, former president of the Illinois State Historical Society (2001-3)
A native of Illinois, Hebert K. Russel is the author of A Southern Illinois Album and Edgar Lee Masters: A Biography.
Southern Illinois University Press, 2012