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Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History

SEPTEMBER 30, 2023 - SEPTEMBER 2025

A comprehensive, but not complete, look at the African American experience in Colorado.

The goal of this project has been working collaboratively to preserve Colorado’s rich and complex Black histories, sharing them broadly, and integrating them into Colorado education.

Teachers: Help us pilot the curriculum! Click below for free downloads of Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History curriculum for:
Second grade
Fourth grade
Eighth grade
High school

Welcome to “Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History!” My name is Anna Belle Riley. In 1864, I became the earliest known child of African heritage born in the ancestral lands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Utes. At that time, the United States Government called this area the “Colorado Territory,” which later became the state of Colorado in 1876. My family’s stories highlight themes that you’ll see in this exhibit:

Why did Black people choose to make Colorado their home? My father, Thomas J. Riley, came here in search of gold in the 1860s. Others came for different opportunities.

How did Black people build community? My dad, and his wife Louisiana “Lucy” Riley, settled in Denver. Like other African American migrants, they got jobs, resided in segregated neighborhoods, enrolled me in public schools, and we worshiped in Black churches.

How did Black people fight for social justice? During my lifetime, Black Coloradans protested against efforts to segregate where we learned and lived, to deny our right to vote, and to keep us from being full participants in society. Like today, we won some battles and we lost some. Yet, we always persevered. 

What about Black accomplishment? This exhibit will share the stories of well-known Black Coloradans as well as some you may hear about for the first time. People like me!

How do Black folks feel about their future in Colorado? My future was cut short because I died at an early age, but my daughter carried on my legacy through her life and children, just as thousands of Black Coloradans have done.

I’m excited for you to experience my home state’s fascinating history through an African American perspective. I hope you enjoy this look at “Colorful Colorado!”

The Museum of Boulder, NAACP Boulder County, Boulder Public Library, Street Wise Arts, the Soul Food Scholar, Blackat Productions,  Carol Banks Design, and more collaborating partners are proud to announce the opening of the project Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History. 

Proclaiming Colorados Black History Main Partners

This project has been in development for over two years and includes a multimedia exhibit, educational curricula, Street Wise murals, oral histories, and a variety of programs. This project aims to amplify Black perspectives and resource Black historians to preserve and share Colorado’s rich and complex Black history.

Annett James, President of the Boulder County branch of the NAACP, says,  “Knowledge of the past is the means to transformation. Thank you Museum of Boulder for celebrating the importance of remembering; and learning; and who gets included; and who belongs!”

 

The exhibit focused on five themes identified by the Advisory Council:

  1. How did African Americans build community?

Dearfield agricultural community near present-day Greeley is the most famous example of all-Black communities in Colorado, but there were a number that developed throughout Colorado’s history. Faith communities also play a significant role in fostering community for Black Coloradoans and Boulder’s own historic Second Baptist Church is highlighted through an immersive installation to transport you mind, body, and spirit. 

  1. Business and Entrepreneurship

Figures like Clara Brown, who first came to Colorado as a laundress and built her fortune, and entrepreneur O.T. Jackson whose many businesses ventures include Dearfield and Boulder’s own Chautauqua Dining Hall catering are brought to the forefront for their groundbreaking ingenuity. 

  1. The Arts

Music, dance, and visual arts played an ongoing role in building Black community. Visitors will enjoy the music of the Second Baptist Church choir and celebrate the legacy of figures like dance entrepreneur, Cleo Parker Robinson. 

  1. Social Justice and Civil Rights

In 1895 Colorado had one Black legislator and a few months after Plessy v. Ferguson, he actually got passed through in Colorado the same legal framework as the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So we had that on the books in Colorado in 1895.

  1. Afrofuturism

These histories are a means to envision the future of Black Colorado, so the exhibit culminates with work by artists whose work respond to the question, “what type of ancestor will you be for future Black Coloradoans?”

Which stories would you like to see in this exhibit? Please let us know here, and your response (excluding your email) will end up on a screen in the exhibit.

The project is led by The Soul Food Scholar, Adrian Miller. “I often joke that Colorado is very diverse, we have a lot of different types of White people,” says Miller. “But we have a rich Black history. As you can imagine we have a lot of great stories that we can tell so we are seeking to thread the needle to cover a wide variety of perspectives and experiences. One thing that was really important was to get the community involved so they felt like they had an investment in it.”

This project was developed by the Museum of Boulder and made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and support from many partners. The Museum is required to match the funds provided by the IMLS and that fundraising is ongoing. 

An element of the project is the Street Wise Arts Fall Mural Series, Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History through Street Art.

Leah Brenner Clack, Executive Director of Street Wise Arts, says, “Street Wise Arts is excited to extend the storytelling of the exhibition into Boulder’s public spaces through our newest selection of murals. Our mission has always centered on ARTivism (art + activism) and empowering local artists to tell diverse stories. By highlighting Black artists, we hope to amplify Colorado’s Black history and community, create inclusive and welcoming spaces for Black Boulderites and visitors, and advocate for social justice.”

Sitting down with history-makers has been a key component of the project. Oral History Liaison Minister Glenda Strong Robinson, says, “It has been one incredible experience. Each of us has a story. For Black people in Boulder, there were very few that were captured. Me being at Second Baptist Church for the past 43 years, having known families through six generations, I was able to get them to tell their stories. And what stories they are. Black people have been here, have lived here, have raised their families here, have contributed to this bustling economy, and many of them died here. There’s a saying that says if we neglect the history of our past, we’re bound to repeat it. We’re capturing the history of the past, hopefully so that we won’t repeat it.”

 

Media about this project:

2/7/24 – 9News – ‘Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History’ exhibit at Museum of Boulder – by Byron Reed

1/18/24 – Daily Camera – Soul Food Scholar dishes about culinary culture at Museum of Boulder’s Black history exhibit – by Ella Cobb

1/3/24 – Westword – Seven Stunning New Murals in Boulder Highlight Black Artists and Culture – by Hyde Chrastina

12/15/23 – We the Black People podcast – Black Colorado History on (Museum) Display

12/11/23 – KGNU – Museum of Boulder exhibit sparks talks on Afrofuturism; CU professor speaks on human rights at Dubai’s COP 28 climate conference

11/21/23 – Yellow Scene Magazine – Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History Exhibit Weaves a Continuous Narrative – by Austin Clinkenbeard

10/3/23 – CPR News – Colorado’s Black History – And Future – Go on Display in a New Unlikely Center of Black Culture: Boulder – by Rachel Estabrook

9/29/23 – CBS Colorado – Exhibit Inside Boulder Church Highlights Black Achievement throughout History

9/29/23 – 9News- New Art Exhibit Illustrates Stories of Black Coloradans

9/30/23 – 9News – New Exhibit at Museum of Boulder Features Two Centuries of Black History

9/29/23 – Denver7 – Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History – Museum Exhibit in Boulder Will Run for Two Years – by Nicole Brady

9/28/23 – Boulder Weekly – A People’s History – Widening the Lens on Colorado’s Past, Present, and Future – by Jezy J. Gray

9/20/23 – KGNU “Black Talk” – Black Communities Have Been Largely Written Out of Colorado History – by Alexis Kenyon

Media from project development:

2/27/23 – KGNU “A Public Affair” – Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History – hosted by Jim Williams

11/26/22 – Daily Camera – Museum of Boulder Creating Exhibit, Curriculum to Proclaim Colorado’s Black History – by Amy Bounds

2/17/22 – Downtown Boulder – ‘Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History’ at the Museum of Boulder – by Emi Smith

2/24/22 – Denver Chanel 7 – Museum of Boulder and NAACP partner to create Black history exhibit – by Micah Smith

Listen to amazing oral histories!

An essential part of the research and outreach for this project was archiving oral histories from Black leaders. These oral histories were planned and conducted by Min. Glenda Strong Robinson, our Oral History Liaison, and transcribed, archived, and published thanks to the partnership of the Boulder Public Library’s Maria Rogers Oral History Program. They continue to be recorded and published, so check back for more! Listen to them here!

Inez D. Buggs
Wilford Buggs
Sandra (Sandi) Banks
Gaylon Ferguson
John Luckett Howell
Velveta Golightly-Howell
Gary Monroe Jackson
Carole J. Jones
George Jones
Reginald Irving Lingham
Carolyn D. Love
Reiland Rabaka
Glenda Strong Robinson
May Evelyn Snowden

 

We’d love your support!

 

The Museum of Boulder, in partnership with Adrian Miller, the Boulder County NAACP Chapter and the Boulder Public Library’s Maria Rogers Oral History Program, will develop activities to highlight the history of Black people in Colorado with our IMLS: Museums for America grant.

The Museum is responsible for a monetary match of this grant. If you would like to support these important efforts, please contact Bob Yates, Interim Executive Director, at director@museumofboulder.org.

In October of 2021, Boulder teen, Mackenzie, attended the Announcement Breakfast at the Museum of Boulder. The grandparents of Mackenzie annually challenge their grandchildren to contribute to a nonprofit of their choice. Mackenzie was so moved by the upcoming efforts of this project, she chose to donate and her grandparents matched her donation. This is the Museum’s first model of Generational Giving. Multi-generational philanthropy is an opportunity for families with funds, foundations, or other family enterprises to connect, give and serve together more effectively.

"I love the Museum of Boulder. My family and I have been members for a few years. Recently, I learned about their new project to tell the story of Black Coloradans. I was surprised to learn their stories have not been told and wanted to personally support this project. It feels important to bring to light the people who have been forgotten and marginalized. Telling their stories feels like an important first step in healing some of the wrongs of the past.
I hope you feel inspired to support this project as well.
Love Mackenzie"

Check out some of the research:

Boulder’s Black Business Ventures collection (in collaboration with the Carnegie Library for Local History)

Project Team (click here to meet the team!):

Adrian Miller: Co-Project Director and Lead Curator
Minister Glenda Robinson (representing NAACP Boulder County and supported by Annett James): Oral History Liaison
Katrina Miller of Blackat Video Productions: Audiovisual media producer
Aubrie Reed: Instructional Designer
Emily Zinn: Project Manager
Cyns Nelson with the Maria Rogers Oral History Program from the Boulder Public Library’s Carnegie Library for Local History: Oral history archivist
Laureen Trainer of Trainer Evaluation: Evaluator. Evaluation will be a collaborative generation process co-designed with the community and will inform iterations on content and concepts, as well as assessing outcomes.
Carol Banks of Carol Banks Design: Co-Creative Lead/Graphic Design
Carolyn McHale of Boldface Design: Co-Creative Lead/Graphic Design
Nyasha James-Davis: Creative Director of Programs
Jeffrey Neering, MDiv.: Oral History and Archival Researcher
Adderly Grant-Lord: Afrofuturist Gallery Curator
Elizabeth Nosek: Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Advisory Council:

Yvette Bowden Boulder County Assistant County Administrator
Adam Bradley Founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA and CU Boulder. Former Board of Directors member for the Museum
Ray Brown – Buffalo Soldier Reenactor, President, Pueblo Martin Luther King Jr. Commission
Tatiana Hernandez – CEO, Community Foundation Boulder County
Kathryn Hill – Executive Director,  Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina
Wanda James Political activist, entrepreneur, and CEO
Nikhil Mankekar Award-Winning Civil and Human Rights Leader. Founder, Call2Action; Co-host, PoCo in BoCo radio show on KGNU
Wendell Pryor – Past Director, Colorado Division of Civil Rights

The Black & The Red Consulting Group (Rick Chavolla, Marissiko Wheaton, Merete Fields): Institutional transformation consulting for a commitment to racial justice and equity for internal Museum staff/Board work.

Imls Logo 1

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to this support, the Museum must match the funds contributed by IMLS. Please consider a contribution to support this project!

The Museum of Boulder is grateful for the corporate sponsorship of BAIRD – In alignment with the Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History project’s effort, is the Baird Way: “to improve lives and futures for our clients, for each other and in the communities we share”. For more than a century, BAIRD has followed the principles of integrity, transparency, teamwork and keeping clients first. Together these ideals form the foundation of Baird’s unique culture and approach to doing business — what they call, The Baird Way. 

We are so grateful to the community support for this project! This project is sponsored in part by Institute of Museum and Library Services, Dodge Family Fund, Baird, Community Foundation Boulder County, Create Boulder, Visit Boulder, Emerson, the Boulder Arts Commission, SCFD, and the Human Relations Commission.

Funder Logos(2)
Proclaiming Colorado's Black History Partner Logos. Soul Food Scholar, Boulder Public Library, NAACP Boulder County, Blackat Video Productions, Carol Banks Design, Boldface Design, Street Wise Arts, Second Baptist Church, Trainer Evaluation, The Black & The Red Consulting Group, and more