DENVER — The first African-American male born in Colorado was posthumously inducted into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Few pictures of William Whitsell remain today, but his impact lives on throughout the Centennial State.
"It lets me understand and just know that I'm standing on the shoulders of a great, great man," said Damon Jones, Whitsell's great-great grandson.
According to the Denver Public Library, Whitsell was the first African-American male born in Colorado.
"It probably didn't even hit him like that ... even to know that he was the first Black male born in Colorado," said Jones.
Whitsell was born in the area now known as Central City, back when Colorado was a U.S. territory.
Jones says his parents traveled to Colorado for the opportunity.
"For them to move to Colorado, and to take refuge up into the mountains up into Gilpin County, where a lot of the work was at that time, it was a lot of mining and a lot of building," said Jones. "It's very impactful when you sit and think about it, and sit and think what he had to possibly go through— what they went through to even get here."
Historians say Whitsell's parents were likely former slaves who had been freed, and came West to help build the railroad. The family eventually relocated to Denver and lived where Union Station stands today.
Saturday, Whitsell was posthumously inducted into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame, presented at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library.
Cedric Buchanon of the Library Commission says there were many reasons why the commission chose to induct Whitsell into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame.
"It's the adventure of being that first individual born in Colorado— but then being here, growing up here, settling his roots, the family that has gone from generation to generation," said Buchanon.
As an adult, Whitsell worked as a brick molder and brick mason.
"Some of the oldest buildings that we would know as like the clock tower and different things," said Jones. "He was very instrumental in that as far as helping to actually construct some buildings."
Jones says Whitsell was a member of an Elks Lodge.
Whitsell was also known for serving his church and community. He passed away at the age of 77.
Jones says Whitsell not only made a last impact on his family but on the entire state of Colorado.
"We just carry his name," said Jones. "We carry his legacy, close to heart. We love to share it with each and every person who would like to hear about it. He was just a great man."
2024 Juanita Gray Nominees include:
- Sandra Douglas
- Joshalynn Green-Tuner
- Granville Lee
- Jawana Norris
- Dr. Ronald D. Reeves
- Stephanie Tavares-Rance
- Chandra Thomas Whitfield
- Anita West-Berry
2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame Inductees:
- Adrian Miller
- Retired Division Chief Charles Thomas Smith
- William H. Whitsell (posthumous award)
To learn more about nominees, inductees, and winners, click here.