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A Firebell in the Night

When searching for books about black lives in St. Louis most books start around the 1940's or 50's. They reflect the lives of black folks who went to Beaumont, Vashon, Soldan, or other institutions that they were able to attend in what was a segregated St. Louis.

ere were blacks in St. Louis since its inception and founding. They worked on the riverboats. they were draymen, laborers, laundresses, and servants. they helped establish St. Louis. They were slaves and 'free'. They endured the perils of the Civil War and its aftermath. They were citizens of St. Louis with their own culture and society. ere were ordinary folks and those of the black aristocracy.

Who were the black folks that helped establish St. Louis and its history? There is very little recorded history about them. Where did they live? What did they do for a living? What about their social lives and their interactions with each other and the white residents of St. Louis?

A population list from the year 1872 accompanies this narrative and shows where they lived and what they did for a living.

Lee Drake was born on a farm in Philadelphia, Mississippi and moved with his family to East St. Louis, Illinois in the 1950's. His family was seeking a better way of life. He spent his formative years in that small town, feeling sheltered and loved by family and friends.

Early summers were spent back at the farm in Mississippi with cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. He learned to accept using the back door to enter the small corner store, and thought the balcony was where his family wanted to sit at the movie theatres in St. Louis.

His first experience away from that sheltered life came when he was drafted to the jungles of Vietnam. As a young man he became aware that the stories of black Americans and their part in American history were not being told. Throughout his 34 year professional career as a high school art and photography teacher in St. Louis County, Missouri, he began researching and putting together stories of black people in St. Louis. He completed his education with a doctorate from St. Louis University.

Dr. Drake lives in St. Louis County and continues to work part time as an art and photography teacher. He spends times playing golf, riding his Harley, and Cowboy shooting at the range.

--Lee A. Drake



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