Skokie, Illinois,(originally The Niles Center) is a village in Cook County, United States. Skokie is around 15 miles north of Chicago’s Loop. Potawatomi for “marsh” inspired its name. Skokie used to call itself “The World’s Largest Village.” It had 67,824 residents in the 2020 census. Skokie’s streets, like many suburbs, follow the Chicago street grid, and the town is served by the CTA, further strengthening its ties to the metropolis.
Skokie was originally a German-Luxembourger rural hamlet, but a large Jewish population relocated there following WWII. 58 percent of the population was Jewish in the mid-1960s, the highest percentage of any Chicago suburb. Skokie has about 30% Jewish residents and over a dozen synagogues. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center opened in 2009 in northwest Skokie.
Skokie has earned national notice twice for Supreme Court decisions. It was at the heart of National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie in the mid-1970s, when a Nazi party, backed by the ACLU, tried to arrange a Nazi rally in Skokie. Skokie at the time had a large Holocaust survivor population. Skokie lost the case, but the rally never happened. In 2001, a land use decision by Skokie and 22 other local municipalities led the court to curtail the power of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Niles Center was incorporated in 1888. The spelling changed to “Niles Center” in 1910. However, the name caused postal confusion with Niles. It began in the 1930s. Residents chose “Skokie” over “Devonshire” in a vote on November 15, 1940.
Buildings with two- and three-flat apartments dominated the 1920s real estate boom, with the “Chicago”-style bungalow as a major architectural exemplar. The Great Depression and the 1929 crash put an end to large-scale growth. Skokie’s housing growth resumed in the 1940s and 1950s, when baby-boomer parents moved their families out of Chicago. As a result, the community grew commercially, with the Old Orchard Shopping Center becoming Westfield Old Orchard.
The legendary 25-year-old bank robber Baby Face Nelson (Lester Gillis) was shot and killed in a gunfight in nearby Barrington on the night of November 27–28, 1934.
First arriving in 1961, open-housing activists helped integrate Skokie.
Skokie has twice been the subject of Supreme Court cases. The case was National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977). In SWANCC v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001), the Commerce Clause was used.
The National Socialist Party of America (NSPA) tried to host a march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977 and 1978. It was originally intended for Chicago’s Marquette Park. In 1966, 4,000 Marquette Park residents gathered to see Martin Luther King Jr. lead a march; some waved Confederate flags or threw bottles, bricks, and rocks at the demonstrators; King was knocked down by a rock. But the Chicago cops foiled the NSPA’s efforts.
The NSPA group chose Skokie as another free speech political venue. Skokie’s local government deemed the Nazi march disturbing, and denied the NSPA permission to hold the event. The NSPA appealed, and the ACLU intervened in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. Unlawful use of the swastika, the Nazi emblem, by a Cook County Circuit Court judge was upheld by an Illinois appeals court. The Court also concluded that Skokie’s counsel had failed to prove that the Nazi uniform or their printed materials would encourage violence.
The NSPA held their gathering in Chicago because Chicago later relaxed its Marquette Park political demonstration prohibition. In 1981, the TV movie Skokie portrayed the attempted Illinois Nazi march on Skokie. In 1980, The Blues Brothers satirized it.
Skokie and 22 other communities in Northern Cook County were sued in 2001 for using an isolated wetland as a solid waste dumping site. The lawsuit went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which overturned the federal migratory bird rule. See Northern Cook County Solid Waste Agency v. Army Corps of Engineers for more.
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