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"L" is for Leon Young: The story of African Americans who shaped the Pikes Peak Region

Posted at 6:47 AM, Feb 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 09:15:32-05

EL PASO COUNTY — At the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, there's a stark reminder of a painful past and a glimmer of hope shown in several displays.

Since Colorado Springs was founded in 1871, African Americans have continued to socially, politically, culturally and economically contribute to the Pikes Peak region. You can find striking images of this rich past in a special exhibit called "The Story of Us: 'L for Leon Young.'"

Leon Young moved to the Springs area from Louisiana as a teen. Museum Curator Leah Davis Witherow says his impact on the Springs was a lasting one.

"He profoundly shaped Colorado Springs economically, politically, socially, and he raised his family here," Witherow said. "He was active in his faith at Trinity Church here, he founded a business, and he was an entrepreneur."

Young was so politically engaged in his community that other residents encouraged him to run for city council and he did. He was elected in 1973 and moved on to become vice mayor in 1984. Finally in 1997, Colorado Springs was ready for its first African American mayor.

Young's family and so many other African Americans were a part of the Great Migration, a period after the Civil War where Black people in the Jim Crow south migrated up north and west.

"We can all relate to moving to a new place, it's really scary, and why did they move? What was life like after moving to a new place?" Program Coordinator Megan Poole explained.

Many of the African American families were running from oppression and segregation. The museum captures the life experiences of these families who settled in El Paso County and the challenges they faced. There's even an exhibit for kids called "The Children's History Hour" that focuses on the Great Migration.

"We want to show diversity, and we want people to engage," Poole said.

While you visit these exhibits, you'll see pictures in black and white and artifacts. If you listen closely, you can even hear speeches from African Americans faintly playing in the background. Museum coordinators say they want visitors to connect to the historical figures on display, especially those who dared to fight for the progress of humanity.

"No matter who you are, your story is a part of Pikes Peak regional history," Poole said.

For a list of Black History Month Activities, and other events, click here.