COLORADO SPRINGS — On the final day of Black History Month, we're honoring a black Colorado Springs “special police officer,” who served our community in the 1950's.
His name was John Curry Brown, and he also went by Jack. He served as a special police officer in Colorado Springs for about ten years. Ray Brown is his son, and he shared more about his his father’s story and impact, through his own eyes.
Ray told News5, he is so proud of his father for serving his community. Over the years, he has also collected many of his father's items, including his badges, uniform, gloves, and keys — which are on display at Ray’s home.
“My father, we would we would drop him off on Pikes Peak Ave. close to the Antlers Plaza, and he would get out of the car, and that would be the beginning of his beat,” said Ray. “He would, of course, get out of the car, and kiss my mother, and look over her shoulder and see me and say, ‘see you later alligator and I’d say after a while crocodile,’ and that was kind of a ritual that we had.”
This story began looking into his father’s impact as he walked his beat in downtown Colorado Springs. But through research, News5 also found out his role as a special police officer was unique.
Special officers were not hired by the police department, but they were given authority by the city to arrest people.
Dwight Haverkorn, a local historical researcher, says special officers were much like private police or security.
“Special police officers started clear back in the 1880s. City council, at that time, they would elect police officers and they would also elect a special police,” said Haverkorn. “From 1888, they would hire several annually or give them authority to be special police officers. They weren’t all black, and probably 99% were white.
His research shows the first black officer joined the department in the 1880’s, and several other black officers joined up until the 1920’s. According to research, it wasn't until the late 1940’s that the first black special police officer was appointed. The next black full-time CSPD officer was hired in the late 60’s.
“I don't think the department went out and recruited in earlier years, until into the 70s, and then they started recruiting and they made a conscious, a concerted effort to bring minorities on the department,” said Haverkorn.
However, several black people tried to become a police officer, including John, but they never got the job.
A Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph article written in 1989 also interviewed John. He's quoted saying, “they just said, you didn't pass. You failed it. I was pretty put-off at the time, but I just don't think the city was ready for it — that's my opinion,” said John.
During the 1950’s, John patrolled the area around Giuseppe’s and Fanine Mae’s Cotton Club. These businesses paid out of pocket to make sure John and another black special police officer patrolled their area
“They pressed the police chief into hiring two black officers to patrol down in the downtown district in Colorado Springs, and specifically in their clubs,” said Ray.
According to an excerpt from the Colorado Springs Pioneers museum, written by a curator, everybody was welcome at Fannie Mae’s Cotton Club, and she served a racially mixed clientele.
The excerpt states: “Chief of Police Irvin ‘Dad’ Bruce demanded she quit ‘mixing colors’ at her nightclub and ‘run it black.’ She countered, “I check for age I didn’t know I had to check for color.”
Ray said his father served businesses like the Cotton Club, and the community for about a decade nearly 70 years ago. Now, he believes it’s a time that should not get lost in history.
“He had a wonderful life and and I’m very, very proud of him,” said Ray. “He was my hero, and he still is.”
News5 also reached out to the Colorado Springs Police Department for an interview or comment on this story. They respectfully declined, because they said Officer Brown was not a member or affiliated with the police department.
They did provide more information about the department’s first black officer. Officer Horace Shelby was one of the original eight officers appointed at the founding of the department in the 1880’s. He served for the next 22 years, and became the top ranking patrol officer in the city. Throughout his tenure, he made more than 3,500 arrests and never missed one day of scheduled work. Horace Shelby park was also named after him, and that’s located in northeast Colorado Springs.
They also shared information about how in the 1920’s, local police, officials, business owners and residents formed an anti-Klan alliance. An excerpt from the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum states: “Thousands of local residents signed on with this movement that spread statewide, and Colorado Springs arose as the leader and home of an anti-Klan rebellion.”
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