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“There is much to be done for the betterment of our future condition…”-Mary B. Talbert, President of the National Association of Colored Women/Vice President of the NAACP1
Mrs. Talbert wrote those words in 1918. Indeed, she was correct. There was much to be done, however, in 1918, much had been accomplished, including the organization nationwide of many “colored” or “negro” support organizations championing African-American civil rights. Interestingly, in researching the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) and Denver Public Library for this article, it was found Colorado had connections to many of the prominent African-Americans of the Victorian Era.
Even though racism existed, the West of the 1800’s provided a place in this country where prosperity was feasible for all races. Two of the earliest success stories of African-Americans in Colorado are James Beckwourth and Barney Ford; both were born into slavery in the 1820s, both escaped, came West and became prominent figures in Denver, particularly Ford, who became quite wealthy. Despite some African-Americans achieving success, Colorado was not immune to the general racism against non-white Americans.2 It was not uncommon for derogatory terms to be flung,3 exclusion from places, events or organizations,4 wrongful arrests leading to death,5 and of course, lynchings.6
By the turn of the twentieth century, the African-Americans (mostly in Denver) were establishing organizations of support, much like the white population of the area.7 An example being the Colorado chapter of the Association of Colored Women, who counted among its members, the successful Dr. Justina Ford. Dr. Ford was an African-American woman, who practiced out of her home in Denver (due to the Colorado Medical Association denying Dr. Ford admittance into its organization and thus was not allowed to open a legitimate medical practice in an office) where she treated many of Denver’s poor, regardless of ethnicity.
In 1918, it was decided that the convention of the National Association of Colored Women and the NAACP would be held in Denver, July 8-13. In that year, the NAACP had only 35, 000 members nationwide, however, they celebrated this number as it had increased significantly in the last year. It also had 117 active chapters throughout the country.
Oddly enough, it appears that none of the Denver county newspapers made any mention of the event, however, six rural newspapers had done so: The Eagle Valley Enterprise, Record Journal of Douglas, Summit County Journal, Weekly Ignacio Chieftain, Wray Rattler, and the Yampa Leader.
The Denver Star 8 published a fantastic supplement of the convention. The Denver Star began as a regular supplement during 1879-1882, but appears to have been reborn in 1912 combining two other African-American publications, The Statesmen and The Independent. The 1918 convention issue highlighted the event’s noteworthy speakers and the success of the African-American community in spite of discrimination. These successes included the Colored American Loan & Realty and C.M. White. For the Colored American Loan & Realty, with its humble beginnings of $350, “an immediate death was predicted for this little adventure…because it was a wide diversion from the line of business heretofore engaged in by the Negro.”9 This was not to be. The company was raking in $4000 a month by 1918.
C.M. White was one of the most prosperous members of the Denver community. He was founder and president of the fraternal organization American Woodmen, which was the African-American version of the whites only fraternal organization, Modern Woodmen of America. The convention appears to have been quite a success and although the authors of The Denver Star are not specified, it is written with class and dignity, which could be quite contrary to how the whites of Colorado wrote about the African-Americans at the time.
Therefore, let us celebrate the change-makers of the African-American community in Colorado during this, Black History Month! The Colorado Historic Newspapers never cease to provide engaging information about our history!
To reiterate, The Denver Star, 1918 Convention issue was a consulted resource courtesy of Denver Public Library.