February may be the official Black History Month, but in Denver, the rich heritage of the city's African American residents past and present is celebrated year-round. The Mile High City and its outlying areas are home to three impressive museums centered on African American history and culture, as well as several other fascinating landmarks.
For decades, Hollywood westerns depicted a Wild West that was populated almost entirely by white people. The Black American West Museum puts this myth to rest permanently by highlighting the prominent role Blacks played in the settlement of Colorado as miners, soldiers, homesteaders, schoolteachers, ranchers, blacksmiths, cowboys, lawmen and more. This fascinating museum, located in the former home of Colorado's first Black female doctor, hosts countless photographs, artifacts and interactive exhibits that tell the story of the Wild West through a different lens. One of the Black American West Museum's most intriguing exhibits focuses on Dearfield, a once-bustling black pioneer town, founded in 1910 near Greeley, Colo. Dearfield is now a ghost town, but the museum owns a good portion of the site and offers informative tours of this eye-opening part of African American pioneer history. Contact the museum for details.
A veritable treasure trove of educational and archival materials, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library offers traditional library resources but also hosts illuminating exhibits on the history, literature, art, music, religion and politics of African Americans in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain West. The historic Five Points neighborhood is highlighted, as are Denver's earliest African American arrivals. The library is also home to the stirring African American Leadership Gallery, highlighting the often unsung heroes of The Mile High City's Black community.
Barney Ford's story is one of the most amazing pieces of early Colorado history. Born the son of a Virginia slave in 1822, Ford escaped bondage via the Underground Railroad and made his way to the mountain town of Breckenridge, where he achieved success as a prominent businessman, civic leader, Black rights advocate and mine owner. In the late 1800s, Ford and his wife were the wealthiest couple in Breckenridge. Ford's impressive legacy is memorialized at the Barney Ford House Museum, a charming 1882 Victorian home that recreates the way the Ford family lived.
In 2002, the Denver City Council granted Five Points, a traditionally African American area, a much-deserved landmark status. The Five Points area included in the Welton Street Historic District was the heart of African American commerce during the days of segregation. It was also renowned nationwide as the destination for live jazz in Denver - thanks to its more than 50 clubs and bars, it was known in some circles as the "Harlem of the West." Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and other legends all played to packed houses here in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, you can tour the Welton Street Historic District, taking in its classic architecture and unique atmosphere.
An uplifting museum experience in every sense, the Stiles African American Heritage Center celebrates the positive contributions made by African Americans through guided tours, cultural exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia. Located in Five Points, the heart of Denver's historic African American community, the Center's stated mission is to teach African American history and to encourage young people to go forward with dignity and pride. Diversity workshops and lectures are offered on a regular basis.
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