Ruth Ellis. She came out as a lesbian around 1915, and graduated from Springfield High School in 1919, at a time when fewer than seven percent of African Americans graduated from secondary school. In the 1920s, she met the only woman she ever lived with, Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. Their house was a central location for gay and lesbian parties, and also served as a refuge for African American gays and lesbians. Throughout her life, Ellis advocated for gays & lesbians, & for African Americans.
“Negro is an interesting word. This country couldn’t call us Africans, because if it had, we would have understood some things about ourselves. We would not have been this “Negro America”, constantly enslaved even after slavery. It would have given us a sense of continuity. So, they had to say 'colored' and 'Negro' and 'nigger' to keep us in our place- to remind us that we were only from this country.” ~Sonia Sanchez
Grace Bumbry, an opera singer from St. Louis, is considered one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation. She debuted in London in 1959, and with the Paris Opera the following year. In 1961, she was featured in Bayreuth, Germany’s Wagner Festival. The first African American to sing there, Bumbry was an international sensation and won the Wagner Medal. She is credited for paving the way for future African American opera and classical singers. Missouri History Museum