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About this collection

In 1858, the Gold Rush in the Colorado Territory made the Rocky Mountain region the destination for those hardy souls seeking their fortune. Black men were among the hopeful prospectors and miners, and some Colorado Springs families can trace their roots back to adventurers like William Magee, a freedman who left Illinois to seek gold in Colorado, fought Indians in the Sand Creek Massacre, and ultimately was killed while prospecting for gold in the Pikes Peak region.

With the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, many African Americans were heading to Colorado for far more than the gold that lay hidden in the depths of the earth. By 1878, word had spread far and wide that William Jackson Palmer, a former Union Army general and the founder of Colorado Springs, had decreed that all children—black and white—would attend school together. African American families worked their way west to the community at the foot of Pikes Peak to seek the fortune that they had been denied, the fortune that would ensure their children a chance for success— a good education. 

The African American community flourished, and blacks became respected as shop owners and craftsmen, farmers and ranchers.  Black-owned businesses were frequented by whites as well as blacks, and there were black-owned newspapers—the Enterprise and the Denver Statesman—where aspiring black journalists like W.H. Duncan perfected their skills. Duncan even became City Editor of The Sun.

The African American collection offers a glimpse of the remarkable families that writer John Holley once called the Invisible People of the Pikes Peak Region when he penned the history of Colorado Springs’ industrious black community. You will meet people like Fannie Mae Duncan, a black nightclub owner who made Everybody Welcome at her Cotton Club during the volatile Civil Rights Movement, and as a result, Colorado Springs was peacefully integrated to the music of the finest black artists of the day—Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Etta James, and B.B. King. Don’t miss reading about the exploits of Tuskegee Airman Colonel James Randall, who also served as a fighter pilot in Korea, survived being shot down in Vietnam, and ended his career as a test pilot.  There are many courageous and admirable individuals in the collection.  Gold may have been the lure to come to Colorado long ago, but our most valuable resource is our people.

Special thanks to Kathleen "Kay" Esmiol who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the creation of this collection. 

 
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