Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Black History Month

Sen. Mark Udall

legislator photo

Mr President, I rise to acknowledge the great contributions of Colorado's African-American community in celebration of Black History Month.

Colorado's African-American community has a long history in our State. From the days of its settlement to modern times, Colorado has benefited from the Black community's hard work and dedication to making Colorado a better place to live.

In contemporary times, we often forget about the diversity of settlers that moved West during the expansion of the United States. But, Black settlers played an active and productive role in the formation of the American West. Many of these settlers found their freedom by moving West and became entrepreneurs, traders, and leaders that helped in the formation of Colorado as a territory and State. Names of early African-American westerners, such as James Beckwourth and ``Aunt'' Clara Brown, echo through Colorado history.

James Beckwourth was a true frontiersman, leading expeditions into Colorado's Rocky Mountains in the 1820s and returning later in the 1830s to serve at Fort Vasquez near Denver. In the 1840s, he cofounded a fort and settlement named Pueblo so he could enter the lucrative trade business along the Santa Fe Trail. This settlement eventually became the city of Pueblo and still serves as a commercial hub for southeast Colorado.

``Aunt'' Clara Brown is another strong African-American figure who fled slavery to establish an independent life in the West. When she reached Colorado in the 1860s, she found a place that rewarded hard work. She earned her living laundering the clothes of miners in Central City and served her community by helping others in need regardless of their race. She was a woman who valued a commitment to her community and to providing opportunity to those who lacked the resources to access it.

These individuals--and countless others--are real examples of the early contributions of African Americans in Colorado and throughout the American West. Yet I do not speak of these individuals so their stories remain in history books or museums, but instead to highlight the continuing efforts and contributions of Colorado's Black community to our State. From the time that James Beckwourth and ``Aunt'' Clara Brown made their way to Colorado along with other Black men, women and children until present day, there have been many other community leaders, public officials, and entrepreneurs who have overcome the struggles of progress. They rose above the challenges of frontier life and those hard times of the great depression. They joined many others to mine Colorado's mineral wealth and forge the steel of Colorado's railways to contribute to Colorado's burgeoning economy. They have fought in every major American war to protect a collective freedom that for so many years they were denied. And they have risen in solidarity to defend the civil rights of every American citizen regardless of the color of their skin.

Today, I am proud to see Colorado's African-American community continue as a vibrant force in our State, just as they can be found in our history.

As I marched recently in Denver's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. ``marade,'' I was reminded of Dr. King's dream of a nation where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. We have made much progress in working to fulfill Dr. King's dream; and it was evident to me, that his message is still being heard.

Mr. President, I hope all Coloradans and Americans can reflect on the contributions of African Americans of our State and throughout our great Nation not only during the Black History Month but in every month of the year.