LGBTQ+ Detroit activist Ruth Ellis' home long gone with no historical marker
A house crucial to Detroit's LGBTQ+ history became a vacant lot 50 years ago and lacks any reminder of that past.
Why it matters: Ruth Ellis was a highly influential Black LGBTQ+ activist who lived to age 101, experiencing many eras of Detroit's history before her death in 2000. The 24-year-old local Ruth Ellis Center nonprofit was named after her, assisting LGBTQ+ youth dealing with homelessness and other wellbeing challenges.
- Her home on Oakland Avenue became the primary safe hangout in the city in the 1940s-60s for Black gays and lesbians who weren't welcomed at predominantly white gay bars, according to her obituary. Ellis was a mentor to young people who partied or stayed there.
Yes, but: The house was demolished in the name of urban renewal in the early 1970s, per media reports.
- The site now appears to be part of an empty lot, though there's a sign in one corner asking residents to log onto a website and weigh in on what they'd like to see happen in the future there and elsewhere in the neighborhood.
State of play: The National Park Service, which oversees the National Register of Historic Places, has made efforts over the years to commemorate LGBTQ+ spaces of importance.
- Yet, there appear to be no such places commemorated in Detroit, as historian and adjunct MSU professor Tim Retzloff pointed out on a local queer history site.
- Some people, including the head of Motor City Pride, Dave Wait, want to see Michigan historical markers for local queer sites, Retzloff wrote.
The intrigue: While Ellis' famous home is long gone, sites with demolished buildings can still be considered for historical markers, the state of Michigan's website says.
Flashback: Ellis was born in 1899 in Springfield, Ill., and died in 2000, per the Legacy Project Chicago. She was open about being a lesbian by age 16 — extremely rare at the time — and then moved to Detroit with her longtime partner, Ceciline "Babe" Franklin, in her mid-30s.
- Ellis became an entrepreneur in the printing industry from her home on Oakland, and gained a reputation for helping people in need.
- She moved to a retirement home after being forced out of her house, according to Pridesource.
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