In Memoriam: Shirley Bradley LeFlore, 1940-2019

Shirley Bradley LeFlore, an educator and the former poet laureate for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, passed away on May 13, 2019. She was 79 years old.

LeFlore was named poet laureate for the city of St. Louis in November 2018, making her the first Black woman to hold the position. In one of her most famous poems, “I Am the Black Woman,” she describes the Black woman as “natural to the bone.”

“I think black people have a special way with language – in every part of the world – but especially in St. Louis,” LeFlore said ahead of her appointment.

In addition to poetry, LeFlore was an advocate for the arts in general. She was one of the last, surviving charter members of the Black Artists Group, which was cofounded by her late husband, noted jazz musician Floyd LeFlore in the 1960s. In 1981, she founded the Create Arts and Expressions Lab in St. Louis, a local arts consortium and incubator for poetry, dance, music, and visual arts. She also was active in the civil rights movement and participated in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and the March on Washington.

LeFlore served many years as an educator in St. Louis. She was the first African American assistant dean of students at what is now Webster University in Missouri. Additionally, she held various honorary and adjunct professorships at various institutions across the country.

LeFlore was a graduate of Webster University. She held a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

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