Black History Month: Denver stories from baseball to music to restaurants

Denver black history stories from a softball game that’s been running for more than 60 years to changes on Welton Street that are happening right now.

Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Charles Burrell at home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) music; jazz; five points; history; kevinjbeaty; denverite; denver; colorado
Charles Burrell at home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

For Black History Month, we’re working on a few Denverite-style looks at Denver’s history — be sure to sign up for Denverite newsletters so you get ’em first — and we’re bringing back a few things you may have missed.

We’d also love to know which black history stories you think deserve another look, whether we’ve covered them or not. If there’s anything you want to know more about, please email us at tips@denverite.com.


WATCH: Charlie Burrell, American symphonies’ first black musician

Burrell, often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of music,” opened the door for many black musicians to follow in his footsteps, including his cousin — the accomplished jazz bandleader Purnell Steen.


When black roadtrippers came through Denver in the ’40s and ’50s, this is where they stayed

A guide from a time when African-American tourists would drive all night, pack picnics or even bring portable toilets to avoid the dangers of the racist Jim Crow era. (Denverite)


Meet the secret society that infiltrated Denver’s Ku Klux Klan during the height of its power

When the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power in Denver, one man from Denver’s black community infiltrated the group and tried to blunt the impact of its terror. Dr. Joseph H.P. Westbrook’s light complexion allowed him to pass for white, and at great danger and cost to his personal health, he attended Klan meetings and relayed their plots back to Denver’s black residents.


Martin Luther King Jr. visited Denver for the last time nearly 50 years ago

He spoke in the University of Denver Arena while wooden crosses and old cars burned outside. The civil rights leader spoke about acceptance and equality at DU on May 18, 1967. One Denver newspaper reports King saying, “We still have a long way to go.”


Shirlea Neal (left) and Rita Roberts dine at the Welton Street Cafe. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) welton street; five points; development; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Shirlea Neal (left) and Rita Roberts dine at the Welton Street Cafe. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

With “cranes up and down” the corridor, changing Denver looks like Welton Street

The customers eating soul food at the Welton Street Cafe are changing as developers add new buildings and new faces to Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood. Those stopping into 2736 Welton St. for fried chicken and collard greens tend to be younger and, frankly, whiter, than the people who typically filled the Southern and Caribbean food restaurant’s booths and tables during the last 15 years.


How can we see redlining’s lasting impacts on Denver?

Residential Security Maps were a tool used by the Federal Housing Administration to decide which homes got mortgages. Neighborhoods with white people were favored; neighborhoods of color were definitely not.


Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) kwanzaa; Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre; holidays; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado; five points;
Esteemed elder Ms. Isetta Crawford Rawls watches from behind the curtain. The first night of Kwanzaa at the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Dec. 26, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver’s Kwanzaa elders look back on 50 years of celebration

“We had a lot of unrest. There were organizations starting, black student unions were starting, the Black Panthers were here, and people were trying to figure out a way in which we could bring out our concerns to the public.”


Beverly Buckmon holds up an old photo of the Cloud 7 ballteam. That's Joe Brooks sitting on the ground in the middle. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) baseball; sports; five points; denver randalls; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; kevinjbeaty; colorado;
Beverly Buckmon holds up an old photo of the Cloud 7 team. That’s Joe Brooks sitting on the ground in the middle. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The long-standing Five Points softball tradition you probably never heard of

Twice a year for 63 years, the Denver Randall’s and the Omaha Merchants have faced off in a softball grudge match.


Reynelda Muse, Bertha Lynn and Denver’s black broadcast history

In Five Points, Denver had the best jazz scene between Chicago and the West Coast. In KDKO (“Denver’s Knock Out”), the city had the first dedicated soul music radio station. In Rey Muse and Bertha Lynn, the market had two of the first black anchors on major network affiliates, beaming through the small screen day after day, winning awards, representing.

Dave Burdick

Author: Dave Burdick

Dave Burdick is the editor-in-chief of Denverite, after stints at the Denver Post, Boulder Camera, Huffington Post and GOOD. He was born in Boulder, grew up in Los Angeles and south suburban Denver, and lives in central Denver with his family.