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The history of Denver Public Schools follows the challenges and accomplishments made by individuals within Denver’s Black and African American community. Despite historical oppression, trauma, discrimination, and legal exclusion, contributions made by trailblazers within the Black and African American community stand as essential lessons today. It is important to explore history to deepen personal awareness. As awareness is deepened, commitment to keep this history relevant will uplift and enrich a personal experience and journey that is meaningful.

The Black Experience in Denver Public Schools

History curated by Sylvia Bookhardt

Early Journey (Late 1700s-Late 1800s)

Throughout the 17th-18th centuries, traumatic inequities and difficulties to participate in the privileges and entitlements of society turned a few hardships into opportunities. Whether in a one-room schoolhouse, cabin or basement, pioneering African American/Blacks worked to turn disadvantages into opportunities.

Before DPS

Before DPS

Despite severe racial oppression throughout new US territory, Denver’s African-American/Black community members participated in a growing community of entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants, teachers, inventors, builders, intellectuals, artists and builders. Even before the beginning of DPS, many of Colorado’s African American/Black residents entered the Rocky Mountain region and settled throughout the West – from Montana, to the southern part of New Mexico, and West to California for over 40 years.

With hopeful spirits, persons of African descent pioneered a bold legacy of trailblazers. This “Black Experience Timeline” is a recognition of that legacy and a work in progress that must continue with time.

1863 – Fire! Fire! Fire!


A great fire burned much of Denver’s business district to the ground. The following year, a flash flood swept down Cherry Creek, killing 20 people and causing a million dollars in damage. Shortly after the “Great Fire” of 1863, a war with the First Nations community broke out, cutting stagecoach stations and supply lines and leaving Denver with just six weeks of food. DPS and the community were affected.

1868 – Segregated Schools

Segregated schools

Before 1868, Black and white students went to school in a rented school space. By 1868, parents in the district requested separate schools that would allow white students to attend school separately. After 1868 students attended school in a building at 16th and Market Streets.

1866 – William Whitsell

William Whitsell

William Whitsell was the first African American male born in Colorado. Whitsell was born in Central City on Feb. 24, 1866, when Colorado was a U.S. territory. Whitsell’s mother and father were likely freed slaves who came west to help build the railroad. After a short time, the family moved to Denver, and lived where Union Station stands today.

1869 – A Church School

Students attended school at the African Baptist Church on Arapahoe between 21st and 22nd Streets.

A later move was made to the African M. E. Church at 19th and Stout Streets and school continued there for the black students until the new Arapahoe School was completed in 1872.

This arrangement would last through the spring of 1873 and change in the fall with the opening of the new Arapahoe School.

1872 – Baptist Dugout

Baptists Dugout

Since the church had only finished the basement, it was known as the Baptist Dugout. The basement was leased on January 11, 1872 and with this space the district now had three rented buildings – Kehler School (at the Colorado Seminary), the school for the Blacks and the Baptist Dugout. Regardless of learning in a one-room cabin, unfinished basement or dark room described as a dungeon, the fight for education was at the forefront of the African American/Black opportunity.

Notable People from the 19th and early 20th Centuries

Barney Ford 1822-1902

Barney FordBarney Ford was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, 90 years following the end of his life.

During his lifetime:

  • Escaped slavery through underground railroad
  • Taught himself to read and write and helped to educate others. 
  • Son of Mother’s Slaveholder assisted other slaves to escape equipped former slaves to survive and thrive in society worked to become a wealthy businessman activated civil rights as an early pioneer in Colorado
  • Established a barbershop, popular hotel, restaurant and bar as the “finest establishment in Denver” ensured steps for adult education in Denver first black man to be nominated to Colorado Territorial Legislature instrumental in leading work for diverse people including African American/Blacks, to vote.
  • Ensured steps for adult education in Denver first black man to be nominated to Colorado Territorial Legislature
  • Was instrumental in leading work for diverse people, including African American/Blacks, to vote.

Julia Greeley Born 1833 – 1918

Servant to Community and Sacred Heart

Julia GreeleyJulia Greeley made a difference. She survived cruel oppression of her mother’s slaveholder. She succeeded beyond the slaveholder’s whip that injured her. Julia Greeley did not let her circumstances set her back! She worked to help others and sacrificed under circumstances that were impossible. She lived at 1421 28th Street in a small room.

More than 1,000 people attended her funeral. Her life was a testimony. She earned approximately $1.00 per week. She walked through alleys and dark streets to help others at night to deliver food and clothing in zero-degree weather in order to spare families the stigma of receiving support. Julia Greeley was unable to read and write. She gave to others, even when she did not possess great wealth. Half a century after her death, many gave testimonies of her sacrifices. The red wagon was full of goods for others and the clothing that she gave to those in need so freely. No matter what, her heart for the community came first. The Sacred Heart community exists today and remembers Julia Greeley.

John T. Gunnell 1836 – 1902

Fire StationJohn T. Gunnell was the first African American/Black to sit in the Colorado State Legislature. He held a seat that was crucial then, and significant in today’s landscape.

Lewis Henry Douglas 1840-1908

Frederick Douglass’ son Louis Henry fought in the 54th Infantry, a military regiment with blacks only

  • Lewis Henry Douglass was injured and discharged for disability
  • Employed as a compositor on the Denver News

Should I fall in the next fight killed or wounded, I hope to fall with my face to the foe.”

Frederick Douglass, Jr. 1842-1892

Frederick Douglass JrLewis Douglass and Frederick Douglass, Jr., sons of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived in Denver.

  • Douglass brothers established Denver’s first black school.
  • They operated the Douglass Undertaking Company located at 2745 Welton Street, and a restaurant on California Street in Denver. 
  • Both were signers of a the 100 Blacks petition for the right to vote

Nathan Biffle

Leadership of Fire Captain Biffle Fire Captain 1925

Nathan BiffleNathan Biffle’s role as a firefighter at Fire Station 3 in the Five Points neighborhood was significant. Fire Station 3 was the only Denver station open to African American firefighters in the segregated fire department. Biffle had to fight for his role as captain, but was finally promoted to become one of the first African American captains in the Denver Fire Department. Firefighters saved lives and maintained community safety and order. Take a moment to think about the risk, struggle and sacrifice that others conquered for you to succeed. Belief, Brilliance and Perseverance lived and thrived in the heart and soul of our trailblazers.

Jessie Whatley Maxwell 1909 – 2002

Jessie MaxwellFirst African American/Black School Principal. She was a teacher at Whittier Elementary School for 28 years.  

  • Principal of Columbine Elementary School in Northeast Denver. 
  • Married to Hulett Maxwell, one of the first African American pharmacists and drugstore owners located on the Five Points at East 26th and Welton Street.

Middle Journey (Late 1800s-Early 1900s)

1880s – A Community of Black People

Five Points neighborhood.
Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.

The Five Points neighborhood began developing a significant Black community beginning in 1880. The district was known as the “Harlem of the West.” It was a developed upper middle class neighborhood with electrical wiring, plumbing and garages. There were about 6,000 African American residents in the late 1800s-1900s, including Black doctors, lawyers, artists, service workers, politicians, educators, fashion designers/tailors, athletes, musicians, business owners and community activists.

1890s – Racial Inequities & Challenges

More modest homes were built in Five Points after the economic panic of the 1890s. Such movements would occur again and again in each neighborhood’s history, and each time alter the nature of Five Points and Whittier. Systems and Institutions in Denver were designed to prohibit African Americans from social, educational, financial, legal and political engagement.

1882 – Whittier Elementary School

Whittier Elementary School

The school was founded and honors the nineteenth-century American poet and abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), was one of the few school choices for Black students in Denver.

1894 – Manual High School

Manual High School
Image from the Denver Library.

The school was established in the Whittier neighborhood. Manual became a central public facility for the neighborhoods, and a beloved institution for many residents long after they had departed once familiar streets.

Notable People from the 20th Century to Modern Day

Hattie McDaniel 1893-1952

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie moved to Denver in the 1900s and attended East High School. She was the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as “Mammy” in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind

Dr. Clarence Holmes 1892-1978

Graduate of Manual High School 

Dr Clarence HolmesIn 1920, Clarence Holmes opened a dental practice at 2602 Welton Street in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. While not the first licensed African American dentist in Colorado, a distinction that belongs to Dr. Ernest McClain (licensed in 1907; practiced until 1948), Holmes was the first African American dentist to join the Denver Dental Society. He practiced dentistry in Denver for 56 years. Clarence was a graduate of Manual High School, attended Ebert School and was the first African American member and founder of the Cosmopolitan Club. He also helped to found the NAACP.

Marie L. Greenwood 1930s 

Marie L GreenwoodMarie L. Greenwood, namesake of Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) Marie L. Greenwood Academy, is highly regarded for breaking down racial barriers throughout her storied career in the school district. Marie Greenwood began her teaching career at Whittier Elementary School in 1935 as one of the first African-American school teachers in Denver, and remains very active in the DPS community. 

Marie Greenwood became the first black teacher in an all-white school. Greenwood Academy was named after her and opened under the leadership of principal, the late Stan Reynolds.

Rachel B. Noel  1918-2008 

Rachel B NoelFirst elected African American female to the Denver Board of Education in 1965. The Noel Resolution in 1968 was passed to integrate Denver Public Schools. She was Chairwoman of the African American Studies Department at Metropolitan State College (now known as Metropolitan State University of Denver) and taught sociology.

Jerome Cousins Biffle

East High School Student & Educator

Jerome Cousins BiffleGold Medalist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

Outstanding athlete in the state of Colorado, USA and the world.

Omar D. Blair 1918-2005

Omar D BlairGentleman, scholar, WWII officer and hero, Tuskegee Airman, outspoken Past President Board of Education, Owl Club member (forever), Lifetime Sertoman – this is just the beginning.

Omar D. Blair graduated from Albuquerque High in 1936, one of six black graduates out of a class of 600. He attended the University of California in Los Angeles prior to entering the Army Air Corps (now known as the United States Air Force).

Omar has continuously proclaimed that “The kids are what it is all about.” He courageously demonstrated this commitment while serving on the Denver Board of Education for two terms and was elected as the first African American to serve as President of the Board. Prior to his school board service, Omar served as Commissioner of the Denver Urban Renewal Board during which time he and his colleagues initiated the 16th Street Mall project that is a national model of renovation and beauty.

Omar has been honored many times, as demonstrated by dozens of plaques and certificates. In 1984 Omar received an honorary doctorate from Metropolitan State College of Denver, “Doctor of Public Service” for years of service to education. On April 26, 2003 the city of Denver recognized his lifetime of service by naming the African American Research Library the Blair-Elvin Caldwell African American Research Library.

From: Omar D. Blair Charter School

Mayor Wellington Webb

First Black mayor of Denver, serving from 1991 -1993

Wellington WebbMayor Webb was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1972, and served in President Jimmy Carter’s Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare. He served on Governor Richard Lamm’s cabinet as Executive Director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies. Webb was the city auditor in 1987-1991. Although he was a relatively new candidate to many, his “Sneaker Campaign” allowed him to knock on doors and introduce himself to Denver residents as candidate for mayor of Denver. Mayor Webb was mayor of Denver from 1991-2003. His leadership as mayor is noted for: 

  • South Platte River Corridor Project
  • Redevelopment of commercial and residential areas
  • Reclamation of park land along the South Platte River
  • Completion of Denver International Airport that began with Federico Peña
  • 40% decrease in crime rate in the city of Denver
  • Unemployment below 2%
His accomplishments underscore parks and open space, a new sports stadium, expansion of the Denver Art Museum and the African American Research Library. He served as president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Conference of Black Mayors.


Bennie Milliner

DPS Board member from 1996 — 2001

Benny Milliner

Rev. Aaron Gray

DPS Board member from 1993 — 1996

Aaron GrayThe years that I spent serving on the Denver School Board were a unique and challenging time for me, and there are many experiences during that time that I hold closely.  There was so much to learn, and in that space I was able to learn a great deal about leadership. Learning to be an effective leader among the diverse group of people who made up the Board, and then being able to work with the most precious gift of all – children – was truly a once in a lifetime experience!

These are the memories most dear to me:

Read more:

1.Teamwork:  We were a diverse group of people, coming together around a common purpose. The Board was seven individuals, and during that time, I came to have great respect for each of them. In this context you would wonder, why are we here? It certainly was not the salary ($0). It wasn’t for popularity either, as you certainly could not please everyone – and at times, it felt like you couldn’t please anyone.

It may sound like we were in a bunker and needing to protect each other. But as a team, we were also able to take what we heard from voices, including children, that we encountered along the journey. And of course, we were informed and provided with resources from knowledgeable educators. Once policies and programs were put in place, the confidence was there – not to micro-manage, but there was confidence all the way around in what we were doing.

2.Collaborative Decision Making (CDM): The basic idea was that students, parents, teachers and administrators could be at the same table. The City-wide general meeting to kick-off this endeavor was such a positive experience! So much of what we desired was to shift the idea of decision making from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down. At that time, it seemed like a risk worth taking. And for the community and those that knew their neighbors and the role the school played, it also made great sense for the community to be involved.

3.Value: People in other positions of authority did not understand when I would say the most important position was to be a member of the Denver School Board. I felt it was the most important task that a person could have. But anytime you were talking about children and youth, then it also becomes a great responsibility. While I was on the Board, the lifting of court-ordered busing and re-drawing of school boundaries would take place.

We also had a teacher’s strike and this brought about a feeling of distress in me, because I had come to know and respect so many teachers. But on the other hand, we had to face the facts on the amount of funding that was available. We also had to be strong because we had to make sure that the funds were not being used to over-pay administrators. Some relationships were not quite the same following the strike.

In summary, being on the Denver School board was a truly memorable experience, one that I feel very fortunate and grateful for to this day.

Thank you for the opportunity to share,

Rev. Aaron M. Gray

Wilma J. Webb 

Wilma WebbAs a distinguished Colorado State Representative, Wilma J. Webb served six terms in the Colorado House of Representatives and introduced and passed bills to establish Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Her accomplishments also include:

  • Long-term home health care for senior citizens 
  •  Drug treatment care for assistance to substance abusers.
  • Began as a community organizer to register voters, assist impoverished families, and encourage equality in education.

Wilma J. Webb was not only the First Lady of Denver, she was:

  • Elected Secretary and Editor for the Colorado Democratic Party. 
  • Voted in by a vacancy committee to fill an unexpired term for State House District 8. successfully sponsored several substantive bills served on Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee. 
  • Proud graduate of Manual High School

Kevin N. Patterson

DPS Board member from 2001 — 2009

Kevin PattersonKevin Patterson has served as Chief Executive Officer of Connect for Health Colorado since April of 2015. He previously served as chief administrative officer and interim chief of staff to Gov. John Hickenlooper and has an extensive history of public service. Kevin brings a strong understanding of local, state, and federal government and stakeholder engagement to this role. For his time at Connect for Health Colorado, Kevin has been focused on improving the customer experience so they can focus on health insurance with tax credits implications.  Kevin has held many senior leadership roles for the city and county of Denver. He was elected to the Denver Board of Education in 2001 and 2005. Kevin graduated with a B.A. in Teaching from Sam Houston State University and holds both a Master’s of Public Administration and a Master’s of Urban Regional Planning from the University of Colorado at Denver.  Kevin is known as a collaborative non-partisan problem solver for Colorado issues.  He currently serves as a board member with Mile High United Way and with the Keystone Policy Center.  Kevin also serves as a member of the Denver Zoo’s Leadership Council.  Kevin was named as one of Denver’s Most Admired CEOs by the Denver Business Journal in 2020.

Michael B. Hancock

Mayor of Denver

Michael B. HancockMichael B. Hancock is an American businessman, author and politician, serving as the 45th mayor of Denver, Colorado. He was sworn in on July 18, 2011 after defeating Chris Romer in a runoff election on June 7, 2011. He was reelected with no significant opposition in 2015. In 2019, he worked to defeat his mayoral opponents.

He is Denver’s second African American mayor after Wellington Webb and a deacon at the New Hope Baptist Church. He is a proud graduate of Manual High School.

Happy Haynes

DPS Board member from 2011 — 2019

Happy Haynes

Jennifer Bacon

Current DPS Board member

Jennifer BaconAs a classroom teacher, school administrator, lawyer, and parent advocate, Jennifer has committed her career to advancing opportunities through education. Whether through serving as the board chair of a parent organizing group Padres y Jovenes Unidos, facilitating “Know Your Rights” trainings for students, or developing educators on how to engage and make change civically, Jennifer lives out her belief that the best decisions are those made by those most impacted. From a young age, Jennifer’s family instilled in her the belief that education is freedom, and set her on a path to earn a JD from the College of William & Mary, a Master’s in Education from Florida International University, and Bachelor’s in Business Management from Tulane University. Jennifer is proud to have been elected in November 2017 to represent District 4.

Sam Cary 1886 – 1964

Sam CarySam Cary was admitted to the Colorado Bar in October of 1919, becoming the first Black attorney in Colorado. Soon thereafter, he set up his law offices in Denver’s famous Five Points area. He was committed to the community. Most of the time, he worked for free. Disbarred in 1926, Cary worked as a waiter for the Rio Grande Railroad until 1935 when he was reinstated. He died of throat cancer in 1964.

Legacy of Sam Cary: Sam Cary Bar Association

Jessie Whatley Maxwell 1909-2002

The first African American principal in Colorado. She was a teacher at Whittier Elementary School for 28 years. Principal of Columbine Elementary School in Northeast Denver. Married to Hulett Maxwell, one of the first African American pharmacists and drugstore owner located on the Five Points at East 26th and Welton Street.

Evie Dennis 

Evie Dennis

Evie Dennis is a leader, innovator, and pioneering advocate for political and legislative change to advance and enhance opportunities for all people in the areas of education, Olympic sports, and amateur athletics.

Dennis came to Denver as a researcher at Children’s Asthma Research Institute and The Jewish National Home for Asthmatic Children. She began her public education career in 1966 as a teacher, eventually moving through the Denver Public Schools system to become Deputy Superintendent from 1988 to 1990 and Superintendent from 1990 to 1994. Dennis was charged with implementing and monitoring the U.S. District Court order to desegregate Denver public schools. Through her dedication to improve and ensure equal educational opportunities for all students and to work with the community through the difficult issues presented by the court’s order, Dennis successfully guided the school system through a complicated and divisive period to create positive alliances between school district, parents, students, teachers, patrons, and community leaders. In addition, she designed and implemented innovative programs to meet the needs of the district’s diverse population, including the Education Advisory Councils, the Denver Energy, Engineering and Education Program (DEEEP), and the American Israel Student Exchange Program.

Learn More: Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame

Florida Pitt Waller

An African American woman of many firsts

Florida Pitt WallerDenver Public School’s first African American librarian.

First African American instructional coordinator.

First educational TV script writer.

First African American principal at Washington Park Elementary School. The school was formerly an all-white school, and was one of the first schools to operate under desegregation.

Edward J. Garner 

DPS Board member from 1985 — 1991

Ed Garner

Dr. Sharon Bailey

DPS Board member from 1989 — 1995, current Senior Advisor at DPS

Dr. Sharon BaileySharon R. Bailey, Ph.Dis a native of Denver, Colorado and graduate of Denver’s East High School.  She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a master’s degree in interdisciplinary social science and a Ph.D. in public administration from the University of Colorado. Her dissertationA Journey Full Circle:  An Historical Analysis of Keyes v. School District No.1, examined Denver’s struggle to desegregate its public schools from legal, political, and managerial conceptual lenses. She was selected as an associate with the National Center on Public Policy and Higher Education and as a fellow for the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).

From 1988-1995, she served as an elected member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education. As a former member of the Denver Public School Board, Dr. Bailey gained valuable and specialized knowledge and expertise in the following areas: early childhood education, public school finance, multicultural education, strategic planning, intergovernmental partnerships, employee contract negotiations, school standards and accountability, educational equity/desegregation law, parent and community involvement.  Currently, Dr. Bailey currently works with the school district as the Senior Advisory for Equity Initiatives. Dr. Bailey was primary researcher and author of the qualitative study, An Examination of Student Educator Experiences in Denver Public Schools through the Voices of African American Teachers and AdministratorsThe findings of her report led to the establishment of the Denver Public Schools African American Equity Task Force. The recommendations of the Task Force now serve as a guide for achieve greater institutional equity for African American students and educators.

Learn more about Dr. Bailey here.

Mayor Patsy Jo Hilliard 

Patsy Jo HilliardMayor Patsy Jo Hilliard was born on August 20, 1937 in Denver, Colorado. Her father, Elmer Dudley Morrison II, was a chair car attendant, while her mother, Jessie Morrison, was a model. In 1955, Hilliard graduated from Manual High School in Denver, which she attended with her future husband, Asa Hilliard, III. 

She took classes at Los Angeles State College and worked as a playground supervisor for the Los Angeles public schools in 1956. Hilliard received her B.A. degree in interdisciplinary social sciences from San Francisco State University in 1976. In 2008, Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore, Maryland presented her with an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Roderick “Rod” Juniel

Roderick JunielRoderick “Rod” Juniel, served as a Denver firefighter as a 26-year Denver Fire Department veteran was tapped Monday to serve as the city’s top firefighter.

At age 51, Roderick Juniel became Denver’s first African American fire chief. He succeeded Rich Gonzales, the city’s first Hispanic fire chief. He was appointed by Mayor Wellington Webb.

Mayor Norman Rice 

Graduate of Manual High School

Norman RiceA Seattle resident for more than 50 years, Rice was born in Denver in 1943, the youngest son of a train porter and a beauty parlor maid. Norman Rice was an excellent high school student, but college began as a challenge, particularly, when he enrolled at the University of Colorado in 1961. Back then, African Americans were shut out of athletics, extracurricular activities and Greek life.

Philip James Bailey 

Philip James BaileyAn American R&B, soul, gospel and funk singer, songwriter and percussionist best known as an early member, and one of the two lead singers of the band Earth, Wind & Fire.

Noted for his four-octave vocal range and distinctive falsetto register, Bailey has won seven Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  He attended East High School.

Chauncey Ray Billups

Chauncey Ray BillupsA retired American professional basketball player. He played 17 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

A star at the University of Colorado, he was selected third overall in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics.  A five-time NBA All-Star and a three-time All-NBA selection, Billups played for the Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets.

Angela Williams

Angela WilliamsAngela Williams is the current Colorado State Senator representing Senate District 33. The Colorado General Assembly is the state legislature of the State of Colorado. It is a bicameral legislature that was created by the 1876 state constitution. Its statutes are codified in the Colorado Revised Statutes. 

Robert F. Smith

Born in Denver, Colorado, Fourth Generation Coloradan 

Robert F. SmithHis mother carried him at the March on Washington, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

His schoolteacher parents both have PhDs. He grew up in a mostly African American middle class neighborhood in Denver.  He graduated from East High School and is listed as one of the richest men in the world.

His community, national and global contributions reach back to his family’s vision to ensure that Lincoln Hills stands as a living legacy for the Black community that testifies to resiliency that is not bound by racism or oppression.

Christopher Dempsey

Denver Nuggets Reporter and Analyst

Christopher DempseyChristopher Dempsey is from Colorado, born in Boulder, grew up in Montbello, and attended Montbello High School before moving on to majoring in journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

His mother is a retired teacher in DPS. Doris Dempsey, Christopher’s mother, is an author of two books pertinent to classroom instruction and has been all over the country to support teachers in classroom instruction.  His career of over two decades of sports journalism began in Boulder, Colorado.  

Tay Anderson

Current DPS Board member

Tay AndersonTay Anderson is a product of Denver Public Schools where he graduated from Denver’s Manual High School in 2017. After high school he began to serve the students of Denver as an educator at University Park Elementary and North High School. He has served in the Colorado State Legislature as a legislative aide, where he advised legislators on policy around education, homelessness, gun control and more. Tay has served the Democratic Party in many roles and has been awarded the Murphy Roberts Award by the Colorado Democratic Party for his continuous service to the party. Tay is passionate about making the world a better place than the one he grew up in. He has dedicated his life on protecting women’s rights, African American rights, Latinx rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, Indigenous rights, Muslim rights, and disabled persons’ rights. He has participated in numerous public demonstrations as well as conversations and meetings with school district leaders, state leaders, and members of Congress on social justice issues. Tay gets his passion and perseverance from his mother and grandmother. His grandmother is a retired educator of 35 years. His family is comprised of educators and they have over 115 years of combined experience teaching our students to step into their greatness.

Modern Journey (Early 1900s to today)

Five Points – Inclusive Community

Rices Tap Room
Customers being served by waiter at Rice's Tap Room and Oven. Image from Denver Library.

The necessity for other neighborhood institutions, like the Phyllis Wheatley Colored YWCA and the Glenarm YMCA, served a close-knit community that did not allow segregation to impede progress. Community members made extraordinary strides to meet accomplishment.

Black firefighters played an important role in Denver. They helped to save lives and were known to support the community. Their unique style created a certain type of dependence and respect.

1927 – Segregation is Sued

Jessie H. Newlon
Jessie H. Newlon, Superintendent of Public Instruction of the City and County of Denver. Image from Newlon Elementary.

African American students and their parents successfully sued Jessie H. Newlon, Superintendent of Public Instruction of the City and County of Denver, for establishing a separation of social functions for students based on race, contrary to the US Constitution.

1935 – Lincoln Hills Resort Established for African-American/Black families

Lincoln Hills Resort
Image from

An oasis in the Rocky Mountains, high above the moral desert, Lincoln Hills was the place where vision, pride and community came together and molded the hearts and minds of generations. The resort area extended over (100) acres in total and over (600) lots were sold in the 1920s and 1930s. Most lots were small, only 25ft by 100ft and sold for $50 – $100 a piece. Typically, they had cabins erected on them or were used as campsites. Owners were dispersed throughout the United States but its core ownership group, by far, was found within the African-American community of Denver. 

1930s – Redlining


The US Housing Administration drew up maps of major metropolitan areas around the country, including Denver. Entire neighborhoods were affected. It first started in the ’30s, occurs when people in certain neighborhoods are denied mortgage loans – or said mortgages were made very difficult to obtain. Despite these barriers to entry, the accomplishments of African American/Black citizens continue to rise.

1946 – Denver Urban League

Metropolitan Urban League of Denver

Known as the Metropolitan Urban League of Denver, this league still exists today. Metropolitan Urban League of Denver was created to support issues related to education, jobs, justice, housing and economic empowerment.

1940s - 50s – Five Points Culture

Five Points Culture
Dr. Clarence Holmes at the Phylis Wheatley YWCA in Five Points (Colo.) Image from Denver Library.

The Five Points neighborhood continued as the seat of Denver’s African American community. The period was also the height of the neighborhood’s reign as a cultural and entertainment destination, with local nightspots host to jazz and blues musicians of the day.

1961 – Downward Trend in Five Points

Congress on Racial Equality
A march held in memory of the four girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama; the march was sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality and was held in Washington, D.C., in 1963. Image from Brittanica.

In 1961 citizens founded a Denver chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). They worked to ensure equal opportunities in jobs, housing, and education. Black home owners recognized inequity that accompanied mistreatment by law enforcement officers and the legal system.

1960s - 70s – Five Points Residents Relocate

The Rossonian
The Rossonian. Image from Denver Library.

By the late 60s-70s, the relocation of African American/Black families from the Five Points community created challenges that affected the upkeep of property, homes, businesses and cultural Opportunities once enjoyed by its residents, but the chapter did not close; leaders continued to rise.

1970 – Buses are Bombed

Bus Fire

On Feb. 5, 1970, 37 DPS court-ordered buses were bombed. Pro-busing board members received constant threats. This was under Omar D. Blair’s presidency of DPS’s School Board.

1990-1994 – Superintendent Evie Dennis

Evie Dennis

Evie Dennis was the first African American Superintendent of Denver Public Schools and began her public education career in 1966 as a teacher, eventually moving through the Denver Public Schools system to become Deputy Superintendent from 1988 to 1990 and Superintendent from 1990 to 1994.