Keith Tyrone Williams | St. Louis Public Radio

Keith Tyrone Williams

Detail of Katherine Dunham in Choros, undated
Missouri History Museum | Provided

Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, before Freedom Riders headed to segregated bus stations, before Martin Luther King Jr. led his first march, there was Katherine Dunham.

The dancer and choreographer stood up to discrimination as far back as 1944. She railed against a system in which hotels wouldn’t book her and theaters wouldn’t let her black and white fans sit together, according to Washington University professor Joanna Dee Das. Das has written a book about the legendary artist and activist who lived in East St. Louis off and on starting in the mid'60s. The book, “Katherine Dunham:  Dance and the African Diaspora,” is set for release early next year.