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CAIRO — The Rev. Charles Koen, the vocal civil rights leader from Cairo, died Friday at the age of 73, according to family.

Koen’s life is noted for his involvement in the push for civil rights throughout the 1960s.

“During the summer of 1962 he courageously organized and led other youth with the help of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to stand against racial segregation and injustices that existed in Cairo,” said the biography on Koen’s page dedicated to his run earlier this year for Illinois’ 12th Congressional District.

Koen’s work to further the rights of black Americans centered around his home in Cairo. In 1969 Koen brought several members of civil rights groups from East St. Louis to Cairo — the youth had expressed interest in providing protection for the Rev. Gerald Montroy, who was standing up against the White Hats, according to an April 28, 1969, article in The Southern Illinoisan.

Koen was also the founder of the East St. Louis civil rights group the Black Liberators.

Koen was honored on 1971 album “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by jazz drummer Max Roach — the song “Joshua (For Rev. Charles Koen And The People Of Cairo, Ill.)” closes the record.

Services for Koen have not yet been announced.

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On Twitter: @ismithreports



Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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