James Pierson Beckwourth was one of the earliest fur-trappers of the Rockies, the co-founder of the city of Pueblo and was known to live closely with the Crow Indians, a tribe whose reservation now exists in Montana.
Throughout the 1820's, Beckwourth's fur-trapping escapades in the Rockies led him to many adventures. He had two short marriages to women from the Blackfeet Tribe and historical accounts show that he was captured or traded to live with the Crow Tribe for six or eight years. During that time, he gained enough respect to become a War Chief within the tribe.
In 1856 Beckwourth dictated an autobiography titled, "The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians."
"Aunt" Clara Brown was born a slave in Virginia, and wasn't freed until 1859 when she was almost 60. Already separated from her husband and four children from being sold by a previous owner at auction, Brown headed for Colorado, working as a cook on a wagon train.
According to the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, Brown is believed to have been the first black woman to cross the plains during the Gold Rush. As she accumulated money, Brown would search for her family and work to help freed slaves relocate to Colorado, which was still a territory at the time and not a yet a state. She was able to reunite with one of her daughters before she died in 1885.
Brown was buried in honor by the Society of Colorado Pioneers, awarded a memorial chair in Central City Opera House and has a stained glass window in the state capitol.
Barney Lancelot Ford was a runaway slave from South Carolina who used the Underground Railroad to escape to Chicago at age 17. In Chicago, Ford taught himself to read and write, worked helping other runaways through the Underground Railroad and married a woman who helped him pick the last name "Ford," inspired by the steam engine Lancelot Ford.
Deciding to participate in the California Gold Rush, the Fords traveled by ship and ended up settling in Nicaragua, Central America to build up money and open a hotel.
It wasn't until 1860 that the Fords arrived in Colorado. In Denver he made a career first as a barber, then an innkeeper, restauranteur and hotel owner. Even President Ulysses S. Grant was one of Ford's hotel guests.
Ford became the first black businessman in Breckenridge after opening Ford's Restaurant and Chop House in 1880. Today, Breckenridge's Barney Ford House Museum stands in honor of his life.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, Ford lobbied Washington D.C. to keep Colorado from attaining statehood. If it became a state, African Americans would be denied their right to vote.
Lewis H. Douglass (1840-1908, on the left) and Frederick Douglass Jr. (1842-1892, right) were the sons of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Both served in the first black regiment during the Civil War before migrating to Denver in 1886.
According to African Americans of Denver, the two created Denver's first black school, ran a mortuary, a restaurant on California Street and signed the 100 Blacks Petition for the right to vote.
Like Barney Ford, the Douglass brothers petitioned for Colorado to not become a state until all men were allowed to vote.
"My advice to the Negro," Lewis Price once said, is "get property first. Get that before education. With property and comfortable homes for the Negro, education will follow."
While he was alive, Price was sometimes referred to as "The Black Wizard" in response to his financial success. Having worked hard to invest most of his money in real estate, Price became one of Denver's wealthiest men around 1890.
From Colorado Profiles: Men and Women Who Shaped The Centennial State:
Empowered by his convictions that blacks were the equals of whites, Price was also well known for hiring white servants in his two-story mansion on the corner of Sherman Street and Eighteenth Avenue. On Sundays he was also known to ride through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill in his coach with all white horses and a white driver.
Madam C.J. Walker was the first African American female millionaire and is sometimes described as the U.S.'s first female self-made millionaire.
Arriving in Denver in 1905 as a cook and laundress, Walker began mixing hair products like her "Wonderful Hair Grower" for local African American women. When business took off, Walker traveled around the country promoting her products and training women in cosmetology.
Sonny Lawson Park was created in 1972 for Oglesvie "Sonny" Lawson, who opened a pharmacy downtown with Hulett A. Maxwell on the corner of 26th and Welton in 1924.
It was the first park in Denver to be named for an African American.
Leroy Smith was the first African American disk jockey in Denver and the first African American to join the city's chamber of commerce. He moved to Denver in 1936 and about 10 years later he had a 30-minute show on the air.
For his show--"Rockin' With Leroy Show"--Smith paid for his own airtime, used his own records and did his own promotion.
Because his light complexion allowed him to pass as a white man, Dr. Westbrook was able to infiltrate Colorado's Ku Klux Klan meetings and warn the African American community about their plans.
Dr. Westbrook was an African American physician who coined Weld County's black agricultural colony "Dearfield"--now a ghost town--because "the fields are dear to us."
Dearfield was founded by Oliver Toussaint Jackson (not pictured).
Though the settlement only lasted approximately 30 years, it met with the sentiments of the colonization movement--the view that African Americans travel back to Africa--for separation and self-sufficiency.
Bill Pickett is one of the West's most famous black cowboys and is credited with being the inventor of Bulldogging, the act of throwing a steer on its back with bare hands and teeth. Pickett is first recorded publicly performing this feat in 1890 at the Arkansas Valley Fair in Rocky Ford.
Bulldogging became a popular feature at rodeos, and Pickett became the first black man to be elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1972.
Today the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo tours the country and promotes African American western history. The first Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo was held in Denver in 1984.
Colorado's first black female doctor, Justina Ford received her degree from Hering Medical College in Chicago and quickly became known as "The Lady Doctor." She is fondly remembered for never turning a patient away, even though racism denied her hospital privileges for many years.
In 1902, the Fords moved to Denver. Their house is now the location of the Black American West Museum.
Colorado's present-day Sam Cary Bar Association is named for Samuel Eddy Cary, the first black attorney in Colorado.
Cary graduated from law school at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1919 with a specialty in criminal law.
In 1926, the Colorado Bar Association disbarred Cary on the grounds of "neglect and dereliction of duty in representation of his client," but was reinstated in 1935 after it came out that the accusations had been falsified for the purpose of discrediting him.
The Sam Cary Bar Association, a black law association, was established in 1971.
Lt. Earl Mann was one of the few African Americans to earn lieutenant ranking in WWI, a very rare accomplishment in his time. Though originally born in Lyons, Iowa, Mann was brought to Fitsimmons Army Hospital in Denver in 1918 after suffering an exposure to poisonous gas in France. Recovering, Mann decided to make Denver his home, and became the first African American elected to the Colorado Legislature in 1942.
In 1939, Denver's East High School alumna Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to win an Academy Award. McDaniel won in the category of Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy, the all-knowing maid of main character Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With The Wind." She was also the first black woman to sing on the radio in America, was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006, was the first black Oscar winner to be honored with a U.S. post stamp.
McDaniel was born in Kansas in 1895 to former slaves, before moving first to Fort Collins in 1900 and later Denver.
McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her part in films as well as her part in radio.
Randolph opened Daddy Bruce's Barbecue restaurant in Denver's Five Points neighborhood.
Also commonly known as "Daddy Bruce," Randolph gave a free Thanksgiving meal to the homeless each November. Asked why he did it, Randolph replied "You can't beat love. Nothing beats love. If you give just one thing, you get three things back. That's why I do it."
In honor of Randolph's dedication each year, Federico Pena--Denver's first Hispanic mayor--renamed East Twenty-third Avenue "Bruce Randolph Boulevard"
In 2002, Bruce Randolph Middle School opened and was even lauded by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last year.
George Morrison's Singing Jazz Orchestra formed in 1911 and was one of Denver's first jazz orchestras.
Academy Award winner Hattie McDaniel even got her singing start on the Denver radio with George Morrison's orchestra.
Notably in their musical history the band travelled to London to perform for the King and Queen of England (King George and Queen Mary, at the time).
In 1938 Greenwood was the first African American to get a contract to teach in Denver Public Schools. She taught first grade at Whittier Elementary under a three-year probation.
From the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library:
During adolescence, Anderson realized her love for children and decided she wanted to teach. Every step of the way, however, she was blatantly discouraged. Her high school dean told her that all she could do was "work in somebody's kitchen or clean somebody's house."
"It hurt, it hurt deeply," Anderson said in the book, Growing By Black. "I left home office and went to the girls' room. I cried, I pounded on the walls; I said, 'I'm going to show her.'" She defied other myths, too, such as one about black parents not wanting black teachers for their children
The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library was named partly after Dr. Omar Blair, a Tuskegee Airman and the first black president of the Denver Public School Board. This portrait hangs on the first floor of the library.
In 1984, he received an honorary doctorate from Metropolitan State College of Denver as a "Doctor of Public Service" for the years he dedicated to education.
In Denver there is also a charter school named after him.
Rachel Noel was the first African American woman elected to Colorado public office, the first African American elected to the Denver Public School Board in 1965 where she successfully integrated Denver's public schools.
The Noel Resolution was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, in their Keyes v. Denver Public Schools decision.
Noel was also the first African American to be elected to the University of Colorado's Board of Regents. Northeast Denver now has a middle school named after Noel.
Elvin Caldwell is the other name honored by the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, where this portrait hangs beside Dr. Omar D. Blair's. In 1955 Caldwell became the first African American elected to serve on a city council, not just in Denver, but west of the Mississippi River. Caldwell, who graduated from Denver's East High School, would go on to serve seven terms--or 28 years--and was president of the council for five of those terms. During his tenure, he helped establish Eastside Neighborhood Health Center and Five Points Community Center.
In 1980 he was appointed to Manager of Safety.
Arie Taylor was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 2004. Taylor became the first African American non-commissioned officer in charge of Women's Air Force (WAF) training, and in 1972 the first African American woman elected to the Colorado State House of Representatives.
Locally, she was also known for her penchant for wearing hats inside and outside of the statehouse, which she said reminded her to "act like a lady."
The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library has a purple hat of hers on display.
Wellington Webb became Denver's first African American Mayor in 1991. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be the Region Eight director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1977.
Webb pledged to walk the entire city in his bid for the mayor's seat and over 39 consecutive days during what became dubbed the "Sneaker Campaign," he walked more than 300 miles. He was also the only African American candidate to seek the Democratic National Committee chairmanship in 2004.
His wife, Wilma Webb (not pictured) introduced the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a statewide national holiday and coined the term "marade," meaning part march and part parade. Since it passed in 1984, Denver still hosts an annual marade in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory.
The youngest member of the 1957 Little Rock Nine moved to Denver in 1962, and earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
LaNier's account of being one of the first to start the painful integration process of Little Rock Central High School, A Mighty Long Way, features a foreword by President Bill Clinton.
"I was very impressed by the youngest of the nine," President Clinton wrote. "Carlotta spoke with the clarity and force that have made her the de facto 'mother hen' of the nine."
Lauren Watson was the leader of Denver's chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 1960's on Welton Street.
Victoria Buckley became the first African American woman to be elected to a statewide office in Colorado in 1994 and the nation's highest-ranking African American woman in the Republican party.
Buckley was elected to the Secretary of State's office as a republican, after having overcome many obstacles in her life, one of which being poverty. She graduated from Denver's East High School in 1967.
Pam Grier was the daughter of an air force mechanic and lived in England and Germany before her family came to Denver where she graduated from East High School. At age 18, Grier won the first runner-up in the Miss Colorado Universe pageant.
In 1975 Grier was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Ms. Magazine.
Grier played the lead in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" and has been nominated for a Screen Actor's Guild Award and Golden Globe.
At the age of 16 growing up in Denver, Dianne Reeves' uncle, Charles Burell, a bass player with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, introduced Dianne to jazz. Reeves has since won four Grammy Awards for "Best Jazz Vocal Performance" for her albums In the Moment; The Calling; A Little Moonlight; and Good Night, and Good Luck. She is the only performer to have won this award for three consecutive recordings.
Peter C. Groff is the first African American state senate president in Colorado and the founder and executive director of the University of Denver Center for African American Policy. Groff became Colorado's sixth African American state senator when he was appointed to the Colorado State Senate of February 10, 2003
Don Cheadle moved to Denver with his family in his early childhood, and graduated from East High School in 1982. Cheadle, an Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning actor, is perhaps best known for his roles in "Hotel Rwanda," "Crash," and "Oceans Eleven."
In 2009 Terrance Carroll became Colorado's first black Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Gloria Tanner was the first African American woman to serve as a Colorado state senator and served as chair of the Minority Caucus in the state House of Representatives.