Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History VI Accessible Text

Panel One–Welcome

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.” My father, Thomas J. Riley, traveled with his father, and a group of white men, from Georgia to Colorado in search of gold. He eventually settled in Denver, met and married my mother, Louisiana “Lucy” Riley. My mother was a biracial woman, so I’m biracial, too. Like other migrants, my family established roots, built community, and created a place that we could call home. I started my family by getting married and having a daughter. It wasn’t always easy. African Americans faced numerous challenges because of racism, but we ultimately thrived and prospered.  Sadly, I suffered from a number of illnesses and died in August 1907. Still, during my lifetime, I saw Colorado’s Black population grow and weave itself into the fabric of civic and cultural life by the time the territory was granted statehood in 1876, one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence. That’s why Colorado is nicknamed “The Centennial State.” Step inside this exhibit and hear from Black Coloradans who have lived in this area for the past two centuries. 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!”

Panel Two –The Early Years 

Leaving one’s home for another place is always a momentous occasion. For several reasons, people of African heritage came to the area in the 1800s that was successively known as the Missouri Territory, the Jefferson Territory, and, ultimately, the state of Colorado.


In the 1520s, the Spanish were conducting expeditions across the American Southwest. Estevanico (also known as Esteban), the enslaved body servant of a man named Dorantes, was part of one such expedition under the command of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Esteban is believed to be of Moroccan heritage. De Vaca’s trek began in disaster. The group intended to land in Cuba, but a storm caused a shipwreck and marooned them just west of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Since a sea voyage was impossible, the group ventured inland. As a guide and Indian language interpreter for the expedition, Esteban endured a number of incredible experiences and is believed to have made it as far west and north as southeastern Colorado. He eventually died in 1539 during a conflict with the Zuni tribe in Arizona. 

Drawn image of Estevanico facing away from the viewer with a staff and sword in hand. The background is littered with cacti and a sandy desert.

Fur Trading

By the turn of the nineteenth century, non-native peoples first came to the Rocky Mountain region as explorers. Within decades, more came to the area seeking economic opportunity. They traveled primarily along the newly created Santa Fe Trail between the eastern interior of the land that made up the United States at that time and Mexico, which had recently won independence from Spain. The demand in Europe and the East Coast of the U.S. for furs from “exotic” animals like beavers and bison created a lucrative market for trappers. Trappers often hired African Americans because it was commonly believed that the latter established better relations with Native Americans. James Beckwourth was one such hire. Beckwourth was a biracial man who spent his early life as the enslaved apprentice of a St. Louis blacksmith before he successfully escaped and headed west. He was hired by a fur trading company and, in time, became very successful.

Black and white portrait of James Beckwourth. He wears a striped suit and fashions a stern expression.


 Though slavery was never formally legal in Colorado, a small number of enslaved African Americans were forcibly brought to Colorado to enrich their slaveholders. For example, Andrew, Charlotte, and Dick Green were enslaved by Charles and William Bent and brought to southeastern Colorado to work at an important trading post and fort that Bent built in the early 1830s. Andrew and Dick were brothers, and Charlotte and Dick were married. Brothers Andrew and Dick were responsible for maintaining the fort’s grounds, doing chores, and greeting guests. Dick’s wife, Charlotte, was the fort’s principal cook and became renowned for her food. Other enslaved peoples were primarily domestic servants and laborers. In 1849, William Bent freed the Greens and they relocated to St. Louis.

Illustration of Bent’s Fort with a large American flag at the highest point of the fort. There are cacti and a small man walking toward the fort with a cowboy hat.


Photograph of 4 black miners outfitted with lanterns and hats.  

About a decade after the famous California Gold Rush of the 1840s, hordes of people traveled to Colorado after gold had been discovered here in the late 1850s. African Americans were certainly among the mining masses who settled in Black Hawk, Breckenridge, Central City, Denver, and Golden just to name a few communities. African Americans in Colorado’s mining towns were a mix of enslaved and free people who either mined themselves or were the servants of miners.  Chaney and Pickett Meyers came to Victor, Colorado in 1870 because of mining. Chaney ran a boarding house while Pickett, her husband, worked in a nearby mine. In the 1880s, the Picketts moved to Denver. Chaney Pickett died in 1955 at 111 years old.


 Yet, a number of African Americans came to Colorado because they had escaped slavery and desiring a life of liberty. Clara Brown joined some gold-seeking Kansans traveling to Colorado. Brown was formerly enslaved and during her bondage she was married and had children. Her slaveholder cruelly broke up her family and sold her relatives to other plantations. Brown thought that one of her daughters resided in this area and hoped that they could be reunited. Brown didn’t find her daughter in Denver, but moved to Central City where she eventually became a community fixture as a businesswoman and philanthropist during the 1860s and 1870s. In the early 1880s, Brown finally found her daughter living in Iowa. When Brown died in 1885, Colorado Governor James Grant and Denver Mayor John Routt both attended her funeral. 

Portrait of Clara Brown. She wears a white collared shirt beneath a dark dress. 

Panel Three: Building Community 

 Once appreciable numbers of African Americans arrived in Colorado, some lived in isolation, but many gravitated together and established communities across the state. Sometimes, African Americans established all-Black colonies or municipalities, but it was more typical to form all-Black neighborhoods in certain parts of urban areas. By the late nineteenth century, the state’s African American population was concentrated in a few cities along the Front Range, namely in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver (especially the “Five Points” neighborhood), Fort Collins, and Pueblo (particularly in nearby Bessemer). 

According to Historic Boulder: “Starting in the 1870s Black settlers came to Colorado where the climate for discrimination was more favorable than they found in the Southern and border states where they were born. At the time of time of the 1880 Boulder census, there were some Black citizens listed living in what became known as the Little Rectangle—a flood prone area of Goss Street between 19th and 23rd streets that included the south side of what is now Canyon Boulevard. Although it was not entirely segregated at any time, the Little Rectangle became increasingly so, when in the 1910s and 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan rose to power in the County”

Panel Four -Black Accomplishment 

Louise V. Bryant (?–?), a Colorado Springs native, became one of the first African American womenwoman to earn a law degree. In 1883, Bryant graduated from Howard University Law School, located in Washington, D.C. Her accomplishment was widely reported in newspapers across the country.

Barney Ford (1822-1902) was a very notable figure in early Colorado 7phistory. After escaping slavery in Virginia, he eventually arrived in Colorado during the 1860s. In Breckenridge, Ford successfully mined for gold and ran a boarding house. He moved to Denver, and from the 1860s to the 1890s, ran successful restaurants and hotels in Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ford was also heavily involved in state politics and was known as an irrepressible advocate for civil rights. 

Black and white portrait of Ford. He has a dark mustache and goatee. 

Julia Greeley (1840-1918), who was previously enslaved in Missouri, made her way to Denver around 1880 and worked for the family of William Gilpin, Colorado’s first territorial governor. After becoming a Catholic, Greeley became known for her charitable work with the poor. In 2016, the Archdiocese of Denver began the process of having Greeley considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church.

Painting of Greeley. She wears a long dark sun hat and a white blouse.

Columbus B. Hill (?-1923) was one of Colorado’s most famous barbecue cooks. Born in west Tennessee, he moved to Denver in the late 1870s after spending some time in Missouri. Within a few years, he supervised numerous large barbecues. During Greeley’s “Potato Day” festival of 1894, he barbecued lamb for a crowd of 10,000 people.

Photograph of Hill wearing a tall chef’s hat with a large smile.

Cathay Williams (1842-1893) is the first known woman to serve in the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the acclaimed all-Black military units. Because of the sexism of the time, she joined the Army in 1866 under the name of “William Cathay” and she presented herself as a man. She had a few service stints in Colorado before frequent hospitalizations ultimately revealed to doctors that she was a woman. She was honorably discharged and spent the rest of her life primarily in southern Colorado, working as a cook and a seamstress.

Image of Williams in her Army uniform complete with a hat and buttoned top.

Panel Five 5-Building Community Through Faith. 

Spirituality and community often go hand in hand. Houses of worship were sacred places and safe spaces for Black Coloradans to perform their spiritual practice, enjoy social life, form economic enterprises, and organize politically without interference from others. Christianity has been the most prevalent form of religion, but Black Coloradans belong to numerous faith traditions.

Image of 3 church goers singing proudly with their hands toward the sky.

(Excerpted from Second Baptist’s website) Before you is a representation of Second Baptist Church, Boulder’s only remaining, predominantly Black Christian church. On January 7, 1908, Frank Lingham, Lulu Lingham, Daisy Horne (Lulu’s sister and Robert’s wife), Robert Horne, Thomas Rucker, Lula Gibson, William H. Willis, Virginia Goodwin, and Mary J. Reeves became charter members of Second Baptist Church of Boulder, Colorado. Every week, a handful of Black men and women honored God and worshiped wherever possible. Unused storefronts and vacant shops were filled with prayer and God’s presence until He graciously provided a permanent home in a former carpentry shop at the corner of 24th and Pearl Streets. 

By 1940, Rev. Houston, seeing the need for expansion, helped the church attain its first property at 19th and Canyon (formerly Water) Streets and a small parsonage located at 2005 Goss Street. On September 8, 1944 a highly successful building fund was launched for the construction of a new, more accommodating church on the same site at 19th and Canyon. By June 9, 1946, plans to seat 140 members in a facility that housed a library, study, kitchen, dining room, choir room, and storage facility were realized. When the dust settled after just two years of struggle, a solid community pillar stood, its doors facing east to see a new day dawn on a band of unified and faithful followers of Christ. Those faithful 30-40 members surely knew what could be accomplished by submitting their efforts to God’s purposes.

Now, settled into the new millennium, Second Baptist Church is still laboring determinedly to bring Christ to increasingly freethinking and liberal Front Range communities. The vibrant and forward moving members of this “church of transition,” still come and go as striving ambassadors to a world dealing with the war on terrorism and the impact of religion on everyday life. Still pressing toward the mark, we seek to fulfill God’s will daily by simply continuing to welcome people in and send people out with the promise of Christ’s love.

Zion Baptist Church (Denver) is the oldest Black church west of the Mississippi River. Zion is abundantly committed to community outreach that began in 1864 as the site for education, political, social, and religious events. Zion housed the first school for Black children in the Colorado Territory. Zion member Rufus K. Felton, former Civil war soldier, was one of the Territory’s first Black teachers. Politically, Zion’s first elected pastor and other Zion members were among the signers of a 1868 petition that called for the delay of Colorado’s request to become a state until an “equal rights clause was added to the state’s constitution. 

Shorter Community African Methodist Episcopal Church (Denver) was organized in July 1868, by Bishop Thomas M.D. Ward. First named St. John’s A.M.E. Church, the congregation began as a log cabin erected in lots at the corner of 19th and Holladay Streets (now Market Street). A cabin served as the first church structure from 1864-1878. In 1878, a larger, brick structure was built on the corner of 19th and Stout Streets. In 1880, to honor the presiding Bishop, James A. Shorter, St. John AME Church was renamed Shorter Chapel. In 1886, the structure at 19th and Stout (currently the U.S. Federal Court House) was sold, and other sites were considered to build a new church home. For almost a full year and at three different locations, Shorter Chapel experienced considerable opposition from neighbors against having a Black Church in their community. The church site at 23rd and Cleveland Place served as the place of worship from August 5, 1889 until April 9, 1925. In April, it is alleged that the Ku Klux Klan set fire to and completely destroyed the building. The permanent sanctuary for the current location at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Richard Allen Court was completed in June 1990.

When Colorado was still a territory, the very first established Christian Community for persons of color in Colorado Springs was Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1872, four Carter brothers and their families moved to Colorado Springs from Pennsylvania. This family group formed the nucleus from which sprung Payne Chapel, named for Bishop Daniel A. Payne. The first services were held in the home of Mr. & Mrs. I. S. Carter. Through the efforts of J. S. Carter, the land at 128 Pueblo Avenue was donated by General William J. Palmer, President of the Colorado Springs Company and Founder of Colorado Springs. The frame structure was built on this site. Revs. Hatton and Friston and 12 faithful members were successful in keeping the church open and active. The $6,000.00 stone structure was started in 1889 by Rev. Spotwood Rice. The U.S. Corps of Engineers hewed the stones from the quarry in Bear Creek Canyon at no cost and the stones were then transported by horse and wagon by the members. On July l, 1986 the current edifice was purchased at 3625 Marion Drive.

Located within the original square mile platted by Grand Junction’s founder, George A. Crawford, Handy Chapel was built in 1892 on land deeded to the “black citizens of Grand Junction” in 1883.  The intervening nine years were required to undertake a campaign to raise the $962.50 necessary to construct the church building, a testament to the scarcity of funds available but also to the tenacity of a small group of African Americans in 19th-century Colorado who dreamed of having their own place of worship. Handy Chapel stands today as the only original church building in Grand Junction built on the original lots in the original square mile town site, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. While simple in architectural style, Handy Chapel and the adjacent Chapel House (built in the 1920s) served a grander purpose over the last 120 years, before desegregation welcoming visitors and homeless families of all races who could not find lodging a safe, warm place to get back on their feet.

Peoples’ Presbyterian Church was established in June of 1906, in the vacant store room of a building at 25th and Larimer Street by the Committee on Home Missions of the Presbytery of Denver, Colorado.  The sixty-six member congregation elected three Ruling Elders and Rev. D. D. Cole, as their first pastor. Negotiations for a house of worship began after the organization of People’s Presbyterian Church. In 1908, the Trustees negotiated with the Cumberland Board of Church Erection in St. Louis, MO, through its attorney, Mr. O. A. Erdman, to purchase the property at East 23rd Avenue and Washington Street, known then as the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, for their house of worship. In the 1940s, the church moved to East 23rd Avenue and Washington Street. In January 1955 moved into its present building at 2780 York Street. The building was formerly occupied by the Clayton Presbyterian Church. Suffice it to say that the African-American Denver population literally exploded and moved eastward from the Five-Points area, first to York Street, then to Colorado boulevard and on to Park Hill. The Peoples Presbyterian Church has embraced diversity in pastoral ministries and leadership from African-American, Asian-American, European-American backgrounds, including the first African-American woman pastor.


Naropa Institute

The Northeast Denver Islamic Center/Masjid Taqwa was formally established in 2000 upon “Taqwa” as an Islamic community of believers with the help of Allah (SWT). It began with the intent of building a model community that promotes Islam proper and its application in American society. However, the earliest beginnings of NDIC date back to 1998 and the efforts of persons who were pioneers in making the transition from the Nation of Islam to the light and understanding of the Quran and the life example of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Currently, there are persons among the membership of NDIC, including the Imam Abdur-Rahim Ali (the resident Imam), who began making their transition as early as 1975 following the death of the Nation of Islam’s former leader, Hon. Elijah Mohammed, and the community’s transfer of leadership to his son, Imam W.D. Mohammed. The community of NDIC is in association with the leadership of Imam W. D. Mohammed and the establishment of a new Mathab (school of thought) in North America. Located in the inner city of Denver, Masjid Taqwa’s greatest opportunity for Dawah (promotion of Al-Islam) is in its outreach to the surrounding historic African American community known as Park Hill. There are many challenges as competing interests have created a long standing struggle over the influence of African Americans. Often those who choose to embrace Al-Islam see themselves as “reverting” to Islam as the descendants of Africans brought involuntarily to this country, who were Muslim but not allowed to practice Islam.

Panel Six -The Birth of Black Coloradans’ Civil Rights Struggle

Colorado was a land of liberty and opportunity to many, but not always welcoming to African Americans. Anti-Black racism intensified as more African Americans settled in the area. As early as the 1860s, Whites systematically excluded Blacks from economic, legal, political, and social life. Blacks were also terrorized by Whites, as private citizens, for no reason at all. Despite these obstacles, Blacks asserted their humanity and pressed for civil rights.

Image of black woman wearing a white dress with a sign saying “Jim Crow must go”.

Objecting to Statehood–In 1866, more than one hundred Black men signed and sent a petition to the U.S. Congress to delay granting statehood to Colorado until Black men were guaranteed the right to vote in the state’s constitution. Colorado Gov. Alexander Cummings, a Republican, was sympathetic to their cause and forwarded the petition. President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, did deny statehood, but probably for other reasons. When Colorado eventually became a state in 1876, Black men had the right to vote. Black women did not get that right until 1893. 

Image of Colorado’s Capitol building being built.

Landmark Civil Rights Legislation–A Barbados-born attorney named Joseph H. Stuart was the only Black legislator in the Colorado General Assembly in 1895. Witnessing the worsening racial climate for African Americans, he sponsored House Bill 175: “To Protect All Citizens in their Civil and Legal Rights, Fixing a Penalty for Violation of the Same . . . .” This legislation had a similar legal framework to the federal-level 1964 Civil Rights Act and Stuart managed to get it passed without any formal opposition. Some legislators abstained on the final vote. Stuart’s civil rights bill became law on April 9, 1895, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized state and local laws that racially segregate. Colorado’s civil rights act remained in effect, but it was legally undermined because the police and courts rarely enforced the law. 

Newspaper cutout saying “The Civil Rights Bill: the measure as it passed both Housed of Congress and was vetoed by Andrew Johnson”.

Side 2

Lynching of Preston Porter

On November 16, 1900, a white mob abducted 15-year-old African American teenager named Preston Porter Jr. and lynched him near Limon, Colorado in Lincoln County. At least 300 people attended the public spectacle lynching of Preston, who was abandoned by state officials and law enforcement. Preston, along with his father and brother, came to Colorado from Kansas in 1900 and worked in Limon on railroad construction. That November the Porters began to return home. While in Denver on November 11, the Porters were stopped by Denver police, who questioned them about the murder of a white girl, Louise Frost, who had been found near Limon on November 8 and later died at home. The Porters denied any involvement, but the officers arrested and held them in the jail at the Denver City Hall. Suspicion focused on Preston, and police used coercive tactics to interrogate the child, including torturing him in a sweatbox and threatening to lynch his family if he did not confess. When Preston reportedly “confessed” on November 14, public calls for his lynching soon followed. Despite this, Denver officials decided to transfer young Preston back to Lincoln County by train. When the train reached Lake Station, just beyond Limon, a white mob seized Preston and waited hours for spectators to gather. The mob then chained his 105-pound body to a railroad stake and burned him to death. After Preston Porter Jr.’s lynching, no one was held accountable.

Graphic of Preston sitting in a chair wearing a suit.

Rise of the Ku Klux Klan

Black Coloradans live under constant threat of violence and property damage from racist Whites whether it be individual acts, impromptu mob violence, or attacks and intimidation from organized hate groups. The most influential hate group of this era was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), which was formed in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee. Anti-Black sentiment was widespread and KKK chapters proliferated across the country. Colorado became a KKK stronghold, particularly in the years following the debut of the incendiary film The Birth of a Nation (1915), which celebrated the group’s effort to save White society from Black progress. KKK members had successfully infiltrated state and local governments and law enforcement. Cross burnings regularly lit up the night sky in several parts of Colorado. Some White public officials led a successful crusade against KKK leaders that ultimately diminished the group’s influence. Yet, incidences and the threat of racial terrorism never subsided. 

Image of 3 KKK members wearing all white robes and tall white pointed hats. These members stand in front of a burning cross.

Dearfield Installation

The federal Homestead Act of 1862 inspired big dreams of owning land, attaining self-sufficiency, and self-determination. For African Americans, these dreams were deferred until Congress passed the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed their eligibility to privately own previously public land. Waves of African Americans began migrating from the American South to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West. Numerous colonies were established, the most notable being: Blackdom, New Mexico; DeWitty, Nebraska; Empire, Wyoming; Nicodemus, Kansas; and Sully County, South Dakota. Many Whites did not support Blacks coming to Colorado in large numbers, unless they came to work in domestic service jobs or labor-intensive industries. Yet, the inspired migrants would not be deterred.

Image of black man kneeling on the ground pointing to a pumpkin. A young child is standing next to him holding another pumpkin.

Some Black Coloradans homesteaded land on an individual basis. In addition, ambitious efforts emerged to start small agricultural colonies in the central (near Canon City and Pueblo), the southeast (near La Junta), the southwest (near Cortez), and northwest (near Craig) parts of the state. In 1910, Dearfield, a 320 acre predominantly Black agricultural colony in Weld County, Colorado, was established several miles southeast of Greeley. Dr. J. H. P. Westbrook, a prominent African American physician in Denver, suggested the name at a community meeting: “ We plan to make this our home. These are to be our fields, and because they are ours and because we expect and hope to develop and make them into substantial homes they will be very dear to us. Why not incorporate that name in the settlement and call our colony Dearfield?” 

Dearfield residents experienced a number of obstacles to forming their community due to a lack of financial and natural resources. By the early 1920s, the colony was prospering. Like other farming communities across the Midwest, Dearfield’s economic prospects were substantially dimmed by a combination of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. By the close of World War II, few people lived at Dearfield, and the community effectively became a ghost town by the early 1970s. In 1995, Dearfield was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, there are dedicated volunteers working to establish Dearfield as an interpretive historic site. 

Advertisement for Dearfield, decorated with images of potential homes. One quote includes “Dearfield is the place!”.

O.T. Jackson Profile

Oliver Toussaint (“O.T.”) Jackson (1862-1948) is the visionary founder of the Dearfield colony. Born in Ohio, Jackson emigrated to Colorado in the late 1880s. His first reported endeavors in Colorado were in the culinary arts. He catered in Denver, ran a restaurant in Idaho Springs, and ran a few restaurants in Boulder. In 1898, he briefly ran the dining hall at the Chautauqua Boulder. Everywhere that Jackson cooked, his food was beloved by patrons. In 1908, Jackson left Boulder and moved to Denver to begin a long career in politics. He served as a messenger for prominent politicians, including several Colorado governors. Jackson is most known for what he did to create and sustain Dearfield. In 1909, Jackson leveraged his political connections to purchase the large tracts of land that would become Dearfield and formed a corporation, the Negro Townsite and Land Company, to manage its financial aspects. Dearfield remained Jackson’s priority for the rest of his life. He shepherded Dearfield’s rise in the 1920s and witnessed its fall in the 1930s. In his final days, with his health failing, Jackson still tried to revive interest in Dearfield, but he never found anyone who could energize and extend the dream he initially fulfilled a half century before. He died on February 8, 1948 in a Greeley hospital.

Panel Seven -Black accomplishment and life 1901-1950

Dr. Justina Ford (1871-1952) was the famous “Baby Doctor” of Denver’s Five Points community. She was born and educated in Illinois, and moved to Denver with her husband, the Rev. John L. Ford, in 1902. That same year, she became the first African American woman to become a licensed physician not only in Colorado, but in the entire Rocky Mountain West. However, due to racism, she was denied employment at local hospitals. Undaunted, Dr. Ford opened up her own medical practice. Dr. Ford claimed to have delivered 7,000 babies during her career, mainly amongst Denver’s African American, Latino, and Japanese communities. Dr. Ford’s influence stretched beyond her medical practice. She was an active member of Zion Baptist Church and various community organizations. Dr. Ford has been honored by the Cosmopolitan Club of Denver, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, and the University of Colorado. Dr. Ford’s Denver home is the current location of the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center.

Image of young Ford with her hair up and tied with a large bow.

Emma Azalia Hackley (1867-1922) was born in Tennessee, but moved to Denver in 1894 to join her husband Edwin Hackley. “Madame Hackley” as she was often and respectfully called was a multi-talented woman who elegantly sang, wrote extensively, and advocated for civil rights. In 1900, she became the first African American graduate of the Denver School of Music and went on tour the following year. When she performed, audiences were enthralled by the range of her talent. She was as adept at singing traditional African American spirituals as well as Italian operas. She eventually left Denver to pursue other opportunities, including a stint in Paris, France. Hackley always “gave back” by training other African Americans interested in music and returning to Denver for performances. She once described herself as a “race musical missionary.” Through it all, she fervently organized people for social change. When she died in 1922, The Colorado Statesman newspaper eulogized: “Madame Hackley was a musical artist of world-wide fame and her long residence in this city caused us to claim her as ‘Denver’s own.’”

Image of Hackley from the back as she looks toward her left. She wears her hair up and has thin circular glasses on.

Hattie McDaniel (1893-1852) grew up in a family of traveling entertainers who performed throughout the Midwest. As a youth, she lived in Fort Collins for several years before moving to Denver. She graduated from Denver’s East High School in 1910. McDaniels was a gifted entertainer and she excelled at acting, comedy, and singing for stage and radio performances. She moved to Los Angeles, California in the early 1930s. She worked a number odd jobs as a cook and maid as she got steadier work in films . . . often cast as a maid. She was ultimately cast as an enslaved domestic servant named “Mammy” in the 1939 blockbuster film Gone with the Wind.  For that role, McDaniel was nominated for, and won, the Motion Picture Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first African American to ever be considered for Hollywood’s most coveted acting accolade, commonly known as an “Oscar.” McDaniel’s award created mix feelings in the Black community. She was criticized for willingly playing a character in a movie that reinforced and romanticized slavery. Others joined McDaniel in celebrating her accomplishment because they understood that Blacks were limited to such roles during that era in film. McDaniel continued to act and remained in California until she died of breast cancer.

Image of McDaniel smiling while wearing large and lavish earrings.

Lincoln Hills was established in the 1920s by E. C. Regnier and Roger E. Ewalt as the first and most prominent Black-owned-and-oriented resort west of the Mississippi River. The resort lies near the South Boulder Creek, between Nederland and Pinecliff in Gilpin County. African Americans flocked to Lincoln Hills for the chance to relax and recreate without the restrictions they faced in white society. As early as 1927, the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association regularly hosted  a summer camp for young Black Women at Lincoln Hills. At Camp Nizhoni, named after the Navajo word for “beautiful,” these young women participated in numerous outdoor and educational activities. Social life at Lincoln Hills revolved around a three story inn called Winks Lodge after Denver businessman Obrey Wendell “Winks” Hamlet. The lodge included a restaurant that was well-known for its barbecue. With the passing on of the founding generation and the enactment of civil rights legislation, interest and activity at Lincoln HIlls waned. Thanks to the dogged efforts of several people, this resort has been acknowledged for its importance in the National Register of Historic Places. Lincoln HIlls remains a scenic place where people come to get away from it all.

Image of three children laughing while holding a goat. A mother has her hand out to scold the children while surrounded by three young girls.

Panel Eight: Education

Throughout slaveholding states, Whites prohibited, or greatly discouraged, educating enslaved African Americans for a number of reasons. The two primary reasons were that literacy increased the chances of a slave rebellion and made it more difficult to keep African Americans, free and enslaved, in a subordinated society position. The first territorial legislature valued education and mandated that any established camp, regardless of size, had to create a school for all children of school age in that camp. That act did not openly discriminate against Black children, but it left camps the discretion to enroll Black children in white schools or create a separate school.

Segregation: The first public school in the area was the “Union School” built in present-day Auraria in 1859. In the territory’s earliest days, some whites pushed for segregated schools, but those efforts had mixed results. In 1865, Central City created the first segregated school. During its three years of existence, the number of students ranged between fifteen to twenty-five. In 1868, Central City ended segregation by consolidating all of its schools. Denver’s board of education and the city superintendent did not accept a 1866 citywide petition to create a segregated school for the small number of African American children in the city. By 1868 though, a separate school for African American pupils was established and funded with public money. Thanks to Rep. Joseph By 1909, The Colorado Statesman, a leading Black newspaper, effusively claimed of the 7,000  “It is especially pleasing to note the absence of race prejudice in the public schools.” Though Denver’s classrooms remained integrated, Jessie H. Newlon, Denver’s superintendent, took the unusual and aggressively racist step of segregating social activities like school dances in 1924. Three years later, civil rights advocates successfully sued to end that practice.

Image of old log schoolhouse. There is a thin wood fence enclosing the school and large mountains in the background.

Self-determination: Black students attended primary schools throughout the state, but Colorado’s secondary and higher education institutions had differing policies. Private colleges consistently barred black students. Public colleges did not legally bar African American students, but they severely limited student enrollment and faculty hires. The strict admittance policy meant that colleges were not welcoming, and isolating, places. Given Colorado’s relatively small African American population, no Historically Black College or University (HBCU) was ever founded here. Undaunted, African Americans entered the predominantly white institutions within the state as faculty and students, and they left their mark. Lucile Berkeley Buchanan received an associate’s degree from the State Normal School of Colorado (now known as the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley) in 1905 and a bachelor’s degree in German from the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) in 1918. Lillian B. Hardee graduated from Colorado College in 1923. As faculty members, CU-Boulder hired Charles Nilon as an English professor in 1956, . More recently, Al Yates served as the 12th president of Colorado State University from 1990 to 2003, one of the few African Americans to lead a predominantly white college at that time. 

Image of two young boys raising their hands at a desk. The one of the left is black and has an open book in front of him. The boy on the right is white and has a lunch bag in front of him.

Desegregation: The U.S. Supreme Court played a consequential role in desegregating Colorado’s schools who still refused to enroll Black students. First was its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision to prohibit segregation in public primary schools across the nation. However, the court’s ruling only required local school districts to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.” Resistant whites used that language to significantly delay any efforts to allow African Americans to enroll in schools. The Denver Public School District exemplified, and got national attention for, resistance to integrated schools. In the 1960s, a group of parents successfully sued in federal court to desegregate schools in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. After that initial win, the parents expanded their lawsuit to desegregate all schools in the Denver Public School District (“DPS”). DPS fought the expanded lawsuit and appealed the lower court’s decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1973, The Court ruled in Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado that DPS had to desegregate the entire school district. The Keyes decision was the first school desegregation case that The Court ruled on outside of the American South. In order to comply and integrate its schools, DPS forcibly bussed students of color from different neighborhoods to schools throughout the city. That policy was controversial and caused significant unrest and racial tension, including school buses being bombed. Mandatory bussing ended in 1995 when DPS’s number of white students had precipitously dropped. Today, nearly half of Denver’s schools have re-segregated. 

Image of young girl holding a sign saying “ heck no! We won’t be bused by force” 

Another image of a Denver Public school bus with a young black child resting his head on his elbows leaning out the window. 

Inclusivity: Contemporary education advocates have focused on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion from preschool to higher education. Making African Americans feel valued in and respected by Colorado’s educational system requires progress in a number of areas. In recent years, Colorado policymakers have emphasized educational opportunity and attainment, providing adequate funding, offering more choice in where students go to school, improving standardized test scores, hiring and retaining administrators and educators of color, and creating a more representative curriculum. Though Colorado has seen some improvement, these policy goals remain elusive, and in some instances, have led to intense criticism from whites. 

Image of diverse group of young teenagers wearing graduation caps and robes.

Panel Nine: Black accomplishment 1951-2000

Charles Burrell is a classical and jazz musician. Burrell’s mother, Denverado, was born in Denver, but he was born in Toledo, Ohio and raised in Detroit, Michigan. In 1949, Burrell moved to Colorado and joined the Denver Symphony as a bassist, becoming the first African American in the nation to be under contract with a major orchestra. After playing in Denver for several years, Burrell moved to California and integrated the San Francisco Symphony. In addition to his distinguished classical music career, Burrell also performed with jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holliday, and Charlie Parker.

Image of Burrell wearing a typical navy sailors uniform with a white Dixie hat and Navy blue shirt and pants. He is standing and holding a large stand up bass. 

Fannie Mae Duncan (1918-2005) was an Oklahoma native who moved to Colorado Springs around the time of World War II. She and her husband, Ed, saw an opportunity to create businesses that catered to the increased number of African Americans stationed at the newly opened Camp Carson. The Duncans began with managing a soda fountain and then a United Service Organization club for soldiers. The Duncans leveraged their success to open a number of businesses, most notably the The Cotton Club—an integrated jazz nightclub, and a barbecue restaurant called The Cherry Pit. After Ed’s death in 1955, Fannie Mae continued to be a successful entrepreneur, civil rights advocate, and philanthropist in her community. In 2019, the City of Colorado Springs erected a statue of Fannie Mae Duncan to celebrate her life and accomplishments.

Image of Duncan smiling and wearing an elegant dress with large dangling earrings.

Pam Grier (1949–) – is a well-known movie actress who rose to fame after starring in a number of films in the 1970s. Her father’s Air Force career required her family to move a couple of times, but her family ultimately settled in Colorado. Grier attended Denver’s East High School with plans of one day becoming a doctor. However, a third place finish in a Colorado beauty pageant caused a pivot to modeling and acting. Her most memorable performances were in the films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). These were part of the “Blaxploitation” film genre which generated controversy for its gritty portrayals of Black urban life. For her role in the 1997 film Jackie Brown, Grier was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress.” In the 2000s, Grier won a new generation of fans with her recurring role as Agent Amanda Fuller in the CW television series Smallville.

Image of Grier in a red collared shirt witha gold hoop earrings. She has a large Afro and is smiling at the camera.

  1. Penfield Tate II

Penfield W Tate II, Boulder’s first and only Black mayor was born June 11, 1931, in the rural community of New Philadelphia, Ohio to his parents, Penfield Junior and Vera Jane (Houston) Tate. His parents were both members of large families, so Pen’s early upbringing was in a town surrounded by family. But like for many at that time, in a town that was in ways was racially segregated. 

At an early age, Pen. as he came to be known, was an exceptional student and an accomplished athlete. He graduated from high school with college academic scholarship offers and attended Kent State University. While at Kent State, Pen accomplished two significant things. First, he successfully participated in the ROTC program, while also earned earning his undergraduate degree in political science/pre-law. In addition, he became Kent State’s first All-American football player as a tackle (both offense and defense). He was later elected to Kent State’s Hall of Fame and posthumously was selected to his high school’s Hall of Fame as well. 

Although drafted by a professional football team, Pen’s commitment to ROTC landed him as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, where he eventually rose to the rank of Captain, served in the Korean War and travelled the world. While in the Army, Pen completed two years of his law school curriculum at different law schools around the country based on his frequent reassignments. 

In 1967 Pen left the Army and moved with his wife Ellen and their three children, Penfield III, Paula and Gail (a fourth, Roslyn, would come in 1970) to Boulder, where he completed his final year of law school, graduating from the CU School of Law in 1968. After earning his law degree and working for Mountain Bell Telephone & Telegraph and Colorado State University, Pen opened a private law practice in Denver, where he specialized in civil rights litigation. There, he fought to protect the rights of people who were victims of discrimination in employment and public accommodations or otherwise suffered deprivations of their rights, like excessive force by police. 

In 1971, as a first time candidate, he ran for Boulder City Council and received the most votes. In 1974, his colleagues on the Council elected him as mayor of the city, where he served from 1974 to 1976. During that time, Pen sponsored many significant initiatives, including the beginning of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. But perhaps what he was most known for was his legacy as a civil rights warrior and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. 

Responding to concerns from the LGBTQ+ community about discrimination in renting practices in Boulder, Pen sponsored an amendment to Boulder’s human rights ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The City Council passed the amendment but due to a backlash from conservative elements in Boulder, Pen and fellow Councilman Tim Fuller were targeted for a recall effort. Although Tim Fuller was recalled, Pen survived the recall, but it ended his political career as he failed to be reelected in 1976. 

Never one to take easy way out and always choosing to stand by his convictions, many in Boulder have often referred to Pen as “Boulder’s humanitarian mayor.” He clearly was that and so much more.

Image of Tate with a mustache smiling while wearing a suit.

Panel Ten -Social Justice

The successes of the civil rights movement gave African Americans hope for a better society. Yet, the struggle for Black affirmation, dignity, and humanity remains in Colorado. African Americans persistently lack access to sufficient money to start, maintain, and expand businesses, education, employment, health care, and housing. Black Coloradans continue to rally various parts of their communities to bring about change. Here are just a few of the pressing issues in Boulder:

Images of residents holdings signs that say “poverty should not be a crime”, “educate don’t incarcerate”, and “we need a change”.

Affordable Housing–As early as the 1960s, Boulder’s policymakers and citizens have supported numerous laws to limit growth through open space requirements, building height restrictions, occupancy limits, restrictive zoning, and gentrification. Boulder remains popular, but the anti-growth policies created one of the worst housing crunches in the nation. Boulder’s civic leaders are increasingly acknowledging that barriers to affordable housing divide their community by class and race. The housing shortage has also caused spikes in homelessness and housing stability. Black Boulderites are more likely to experience homelessness, or fear the immediate loss of their home, than their White neighbors. To deal with this issue and others, the Boulder City Council created a Race Equity Plan in February 2021 which raises awareness of how housing policy can lead to systemic racism. 

An image of a homeless man looking at the viewer. Behind his is a sign that says “welcome to boulder: free information at chamber of commerce office”.

Criminal Justice System Reform. Community leaders also scrutinize and highlight the numerous ways that Black Boulderites are connected, usually unfairly, to the criminal justice system. Boulder’s Black population hovers around 1%, but they are criminal defendants and incarcerated at disproportionate rates. Acts of racial aggression have also plagued this community. In 2005, a number of Black students at the University of Colorado reported acts of racial harassment and hostility. Boulder officials responded by strengthening, enforcing, and prosecuting under hate crime laws.

More recently, Boulder’s police department drew national attention for some unjustified detention and arrests of Black men. In 2019, Sammie Lawrence, a bystander, was arrested while filming police officers while they interacted with people experiencing homelessness. That same year, Zayd Atkinson, a student at Naropa University, was detained after being questioned by police while picking up trash outside of his dorm. These incidents highlighted the reality that Black men face in Boulder: They are twice as likely to be stopped by the police and arrested than Whites. 

Image out woman holding a sign that says “dignity not detention”

Panel Eleven -Black accomplishment 2001 to present

Wanda James is an alum of the University of Colorado-Boulder and a dynamic entrepreneur and leader. While on the Boulder campus, James was a student leader and actively involved in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. James went on to serve in the U.S. Navy from 1986 to 1991. She ran highly regarded restaurants in the Denver metropolitan area that featured Caribbean and southern food. James has long been a passionate advocate for the cannabis industry. After Colorado legalized the use and possession of marijuana, she became the first African American dispensary owner in the nation. In November 2022, James was elected to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, representing Colorado’s Second Congressional District. 

Image of James speaking into a microphone with her hand out. 

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse is the child of Eritrean immigrants and an alum of the University of Colorado’s undergraduate program and law school where he graduated summa cum laude. Rep. Neguse has long been a rising star in Colorado politics. He has been elected to represent Colorado’s second congressional district as a member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents in 2008, and then in 2018 as a Representative to the U.S. Congress. U.S. Rep. Neguse gained a national reputation for the legal case that he made during the 2020 impeachment trial of Pres. Donald Trump and for his bipartisanship. 

Image of Neguse smiling with his arms crossed.

Cleo Parker Robinson is a world-renowned dancer and choreographer who founded the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. She experienced a health condition during her childhood that left doctors wondering if she would ever walk again. Despite expectations, she thrived and pursued her passion for dance and dance education. She has taught thousands about modern dance and reached many more across the world through her innovative performances. In the early 1980s, Robinson collaborated with famed poet Maya Angelou to do a combined dance and poetry event at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. Robinson has received numerous accolades including induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1989, being named to the National Council on the Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1999, and receiving a Kennedy Center Medal of Honor in 2005. 

Image of Robinson smiling with her hands on her hips.

While living in Broomfield in 1994, Velveta Howell created Sister-to-Sister: International Network of Professional African American Women, Inc. This organization fills a critical void for Black professional women seeking a life-enriching, non-judgmental, and non-demanding community that requires no masks. It gives these women a space to network, receive spiritual replenishment, and showcase their entrepreneurialism and immense talent. Those who belong to this group mentor others on a wide range of topics from careers to rearing and grooming children. This nurturing community lends support through all phases of life. Its mission is “to advance equity in all aspects of Black women and girls’ lives through community, vital education, scholarship, social connectivity, emotional support, networking, andforums to showcase their creativity in a global environment,” This “Sister Circle” is unbreakable.

Image of Howell smiling with her arms crossed.

Robert F. Smith (1962–) is a fourth generation Coloradan who graduated from Denver’s East High School. After college, Smith began his career as an engineer in some prestigious American corporations, earning four patents for his work. In the early 1990s, Smith joined Goldman Sachs as an investment banker focused on financing, mergers, and acquisitions of technology firms. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000, an investment firm focused on software and technology solutions. His leadership of the firm made him a billionaire and, according to Forbes Magazine in 2017,  the wealthiest African American in the United States. Smith is a committed philanthropist, and he remains connected to his home state by frequently recreating at the Lincoln Hills resort in Gilpin County.

Image of Smith smiling while seated and leaning forward. 

Panel Twelve –Kelley “Dolphus” Stroud 

Kelley “Dolphus” Stroud was a standout athlete and scholar at Bristol Elementary, Colorado Springs High School and Colorado College. He was awarded the prestigious Perkins Scholarship after his sophomore year at C.C., an honor given to one male and one female student with the highest grade point average. He graduated cum laude in 1931 and was the first African American Phi Beta Kappa at Colorado College.

Image of Stroud sitting amongst his family.

Stroud was also a phenomenal athlete. On March 5, 1928 he broke a twenty-five year old record for the fastest round trip climb of Pikes Peak, accomplishing the feat in three hours and ten minutes. In June of that year he won the 5,000 meter run in the regional track and field trials in Denver. Participants in the race were informed that the winner would be awarded paid transportation and expenses to the national Olympic Trials in Boston.

However, race officials denied the offer to Dolphus, a decision he and his white track coach L.M. Hunt believed was the result of racism. Without a sponsor and with little money in hand, Stroud was determined to reach the Olympic trials on his own. With a golf club as a walking stick and wearing a sign reading Denver to Olympia, Dolphus Stroud walked, ran and hitchhiked the 1,765 miles to Boston. Unfortunately, he soon ran out of money and arrived at Harvard Stadium just six hours before his race. Mentally and physically exhausted, Dolphus was unable to finish the competition. Denied equal access and accommodations — the Olympic dreams of Dolphus Stroud had come to an unfortunate end.

Image of Stroud walking in a military uniform.

Stroud’s inspirational story of achievement, determination, perseverance, and resourcefulness is an apt metaphor for Black Coloradans continued, and frequently frustrated quest, for equality and affirmed humanity.

Stroud biography is courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum