Published February 2010 Vol. 13 Issue 1
On the north eastern plains of Colorado, just off State Highway 34, a small ghost town surrounded by sage and dry soil sits like a dilapidated signpost of African American heritage in the West. The town of Dearfield, founded in 1910, was one of several black settlements in Colorado established so African Americans might have a place of their own, free from persecution, in the U.S.
According to Don Larson, a board member of Denver’s Black American West Museum, the museum recently purchased about 50 percent of the original town, and are hoping to keep the remaining buildings intact.
Dearfield followed the Exoduster movement. “The Exoduster movement was the slaves who left the south coming west, much like the slaves who left Egypt in the Bible in Exodus,” Larson said. In the 1930s, after culminating in a population of 700 residents, the town was crushed by the depression and draught that created the dust-bowl period. Almost everyone left. Larson says, “They also couldn’t get water. The Bijou Canal actually went right through Dearfield, but the white farmers wouldn’t let them take any water off of it; they wouldn’t let them pay for any water off of it.”
Larson continued, “Colorado was hugely influenced by the Klu Klux Klan in those days. I think we were second behind Indiana in terms of Klan membership…if not second in the top two or three.”
After the founder of the town, O.T. Jackson, died in the 1940s, Dearfield became a ghost town. By keeping the remnants of Dearfield alive, the museum is trying to keep another important chapter of African American history in the West alive. To learn more about Dearfield and other chapters of black history in Colorado, visit the Black American West Museum, located at 3091 California St in Five Points.
Black History Month Events:
The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library will be hosting a film series during Black History Month. Screenings will take place every Tuesday night from 6-8 p.m. On February 24 they will show "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Written by Ernest J. Gaines and Tracy Keenan Wynn, and directed by John Korty, this 1974 drama focuses on a lifetime of memories as told by Miss Jane Pittman, (Cicely Tyson) who has just turned 110. In February 1962, as the civil rights movement reaches Bayonne, Louisiana, a New York journalist arrives to interview Miss Pittman. Her story dates back to her earliest memories before slavery ended.
2009 Juanita Ross Gray Community Service Award Saturday, February 14, 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the Ford-Warren Branch Library
To honor the memory of Juanita Ross Gray, a former Denver Public Library Staff member and dedicated community advocate, the Ford-Warren Branch presents awards in her name to African American men and women who have made an outstanding contribution to the Denver Metro area and who exemplify the ideals and spirit represented by Gray's commitment to the community.