COLORADO SPRINGS — George Floyd's death has sparked demonstrations across the U.S., including here at home, with protesters out in Colorado Springs for the 11th day in a row Tuesday.
News5 took a step back in time with the help of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to learn more about common themes seen in protests spanning generations of residents in the city. The museum has preserved artifacts from several of those protests and also compiled a timeline detailing many of the movements that reached the local level.
According to the museum, Colorado Springs has seen activism take many different forms. This includes protest marches like what we are seeing today, along with labor union strikes, picket lines, and letter writing campaigns. Examples range from the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) advocating for the prohibition of alcohol, to more than a thousand School District 11 teachers going on strike for around two weeks in 1975.
The museum also reported that the KKK experienced a surge of nationwide support in the 1920s, and during that time 25,000 robed and hooded members marched in Washington, D.C. Klan members ran for local and state offices in many areas and won. A group of candidates ran for Colorado Springs City Council without disclosing their ties to the KKK. The Gazette published articles that exposed the candidates, who ended up losing the election.
The museum stated that the current concept of social and political protests is connected to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. News5 spoke with the Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, who oversees everything that has to do with preserving and interpreting the Pikes Peak region's history. Mayberry said there were marches tied to the Civil Rights movement that took place in Colorado Springs.
"A protest at City Hall, the same building we know of today as having protests, but this was over what was happening in Selma, the march in Selma, and us lending our voices, our local voices, to what people all across the country were crying out for," said Mayberry.
*Some marches that happened locally include:
- September 1963 - 500 people hold silent freedom march rally downtown
- March 1965 - Over 200 march to City Hall for civil rights
- July 1970 - 40 protest the death of Roosevelt Hill, Jr.
- January 1979 - KKK rivals march protest
- August 1989 - Civil Rights marches set this weekend
- April 1993 - Colorado delegation to lead gay rights march and Amendment 2 protest planned
- June 1993 - 3,000 attend gay rights march
- March 2008 - Downtown rally calls for racial unity
Another moment preserved by the Pioneers Museum is a collection of documents related to Charles Banks, a man involved with the NAACP from roughly 1930 until his death in the 1970s. Within those letters, one titled "Will democracy or fascism reign in Colorado" reads:
The people of Colorado Springs are riled up about the police brutality in the city and demanded that an investigation be made. A five-man committee was appointed by the city council. They "investigated very thoroughly" and cleared the police of the brutality charge. Of course it couldn't be expected that any one would be appointed to that committee who would make a fair investigation. Why couldn't the citizens of Colorado Springs have appointed the committee?
The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum has already began to preserve moments from the local George Floyd protests to save for future generations. "We've observed them, the protests when they're here or when they're across the street at the courthouse. We've actually collected some of the signs that the people are using during the protests. We've made some connections so we can do some follow up documentation to interview people who have been involved in the protests, so we can understand their motivation and the background to their story," said Mayberry.
Mayberry said what is happening today is part of a long history of people fighting for equality. He said every movement has unique characteristics, but most are tied to issues of justice. "I don't think you can make sense of the world today without understanding the origin stories, the background of what brought on the George Floyd protests... Help understand the present, by understanding the past," said Mayberry.
Protesters at City Hall on Tuesday represented different generations. "Got my little girl here, I want her to know what's going on with history. I think we're making history as a people to be honest," said Jerome Worsham.
Meanwhile, fellow protester Sydney Walton said the other movements prove that when people use their voice and stand up for what they believe in, that change occurs. She was also surprised to hear there had been protests in the past tied to the Civil Rights movement that happened in the very same spot as the current demonstrations. "It's really special, I mean there's not really any words to describe," said Walton.
Mayberry also told News5 they have began collecting and preserving moments related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said this process is essential to giving people context years down the road, about this part of the present that will soon become the past.
*This is not a complete list of all marches that occurred in Colorado Springs in the past. This is a handful of those included by the Pikes Peak Newsfinder Project, and reported to News5 by the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.