Black History Month in Colorado – why it is important

Originally Published January 30, 2010

When I was in school in the 1970s, Black history in America wasn’t talked about much. Certainly, we heard about slavery, Harriet Tubman, and because I lived in the northeast, the Underground Railroad. The end of slavery was glossed over, and anything more recent was just too recent to be discussed. It wasn’t until college that I was exposed to some of the deeper parts of history. I wrote a paper on Jim Beckwourth, under the mistaken idea that he was the only black mountain man – he wasn’t. And it wasn’t until I was in graduate school in Iowa and took a class on black history specifically for those going into education, that I really learned about the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Richard Wright, the Harlem renaissance, the civil rights movement,  and more, things I had only heard about in passing before.

Do school children learn that even though we weren’t yet a territory, it is highly likely that the first blacks into Colorado were slaves? Are they told about Clara Brown, a former slave who moved to Central City, ran a boarding house helping many other blacks like Barney Ford get started here? Do they know who Barney Ford was and what he did? How about Dr. Justina Ford and Dr. Ruth Flowers? Do they know where Dearfield is and why it is important?

These people and places are just as important as the Tabors, the Bonfils, the other movers and shakers of Colorado. Their presence and efforts in all aspects of society, religion, politics and law have helped build what we love and appreciate about Colorado today. Recognition of them is important to get a full picture of the history of our state.

As the month progresses, we will learn about these people of Colorado, the famous, the infamous, the laws and prevailing attitudes post Civil War, the mail order brides, the miners, the cowboys, the people of Colorado. This will be part of an ongoing series not only duringBlack History month, but always – to look at the people of Colorado; White, Black, Latin, Asian, and every other race and culture that helped build and continues to help build Colorado.

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