NewsBlack History Month


Saving Colorado Black History: Historians working to preserve places and stories

Community store_Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library
Posted at 3:31 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 17:59:43-05

DENVER — Throughout Colorado, there are multiple efforts underway by several organizations to save and preserve buildings and items with historical significance to Black history in the state.

Catherine Stroh, executive director of the Colorado Historical Foundation, said they received three grants from the History Colorado State Historical Fund to fill in gaps for underrepresented communities history in Colorado.

Stroh said one group they are focusing on is Black Americans, specifically those who traveled throughout Colorado during the segregation era from the 1920s through the end of the 1960s.

Stroh said so far, they’ve identified several sites that were important to Black travelers during that time.

“We now have found over 270 businesses in Colorado that took it upon themselves to list themselves in the Green Book as safe places where Black men and women could stay,” Stroh said. “Some of them are now parking lots, some of them are completely different buildings, some of them are actually still standing very much like they were back in the day. And it’s those that we really want to hone in on in particular and see if there’s still opportunities to list those on local, state, and national historic registers to make sure that history is captured."

One site that is still standing is located at 1514 Blake St. in downtown Denver.

The building is now home to Hapa Sushi, but was once the People’s Restaurant, owned by Barney Ford, an escaped slave who became a successful businessman in Denver and the first Black business owner in Breckenridge.

“Fortunately, someone has captured that history,” Stroh said. “A lot of times, the everyday life of people, no matter what color their skin was, it’s overlooked. Unfortunately for non-white people, I think even more so.”

Jameka Lewis of Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library has been working to preserve local stories and items as well.

“Our life’s passion is the acquisition, preservation and keeping of this history,” Lewis said.

The library recently received a grant to preserve 11 of their most popular collections.

“One of the most memorable things I have come across in our archives is a letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., written to a community member here in Denver. And that person was asking for help with coordinating some things for Lincoln Hills,” Lewis said.

Lincoln Hills was a resort in Gilpin County and one of the only places where Black travelers could stay while in Colorado.

Today, it serves as a camp for kids from marginalized communities and is also on the list of important sites to Black history, identified by the Colorado Historical Foundation.

But even without grants or funding, some community members have taken it upon themselves to preserve historic buildings.

Cleo Parker Robinson, the founder of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, chose the 100-year-old Shorter Community AME Church building as the home for her dance theater.

"There was light already here and so it was easy for us to illuminate that light," said Parker Robinson.

Parker Robinson moved her theater to the building more than 30 years ago, and continues to update and preserve it.

“People really identify with place. When you’re talking about history or a really good story, you want to give people a sense of the setting, what was it like to be there… you don’t get that if the place is gone,” Stroh said.

But Stroh said as her organization and others throughout the state continue to identify historically significant places, the clock is ticking to preserve them.