Commonly known as the Harlem of the West in the early twentieth century, Five Points Denver was home to more than 90% of Denver’s African American population in the 1920s. With the creation of new housing developments outside of Five Points that were barred towards African Americans, the White community had moved out leaving the area segregated. Despite being excluded from better housing opportunities, the Black community made Five Points into its very own vibrant and unique paradise which served as a cultural hub for African Americans in Colorado. It was home to Black arts, innovation, and progress- giving birth to Colorado heroes Dr. Clarence Holmes and Dr. Justina Ford. Dr. Holmes and Dr. Ford were firsts of their kind, the former being the first Black dentist to join the Denver Dental Society and the latter being the first licensed Black woman doctor.
Not only was Five Points renowned in Colorado, but it was so well-known across the nation that the 1925 annual NAACP meeting was hosted there. With a sizable and bustling jazz scene, it became a frequent stop for famous entertainers and artists. The Rossonian Hotel was the place to be, with distinguished artists like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Miles Davis gracing its lounge. Stories say that the legends would play late into the night, and then grab a midnight snack (and potential second jam session) at the shop, Lil’s Chinese Restaurant. And so the moniker, Harlem of the West, was aptly used to describe Five Points, one of the hotbeds of the 1920s jazz scene.
At the end of segregation and throughout the decades, several African Americans began to leave the area. Though it looks very different now, visitors can still see the majority of the historical landmarks from the original Five Points. Today the Rossonian Hotel still stands proudly on North Washington Street with many groups vying to revitalize and restore it to its former glory. (A) (B) (C)
Five Points Jazz Festival
The free Five Points Jazz festival takes place the third Saturday of May every year and celebrates the history of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
The Juneteenth parade is one of Denver's longest-running parades dating back to the 1950s. Nearly 3,000 people march in the Juneteenth Parade to honor the struggles and social progress achieved through marches and demonstrations organized for freedom, justice, and equality in our country's history.
Commemorated in cities across the nation and around the world, June 19th, 1865, is a cultural event celebrated to mark the ending of slavery and the beginning of African American independence in the United States.
Originally derived from verb 懐く (natsuku, “to get used to and keep close; to become fond of”), itself an abbreviation of 馴れ付く (naretsuku) of the same meaning. The adjective originally described wanting to keep something close, wanting to express fondness for something. Over time, this term was used more to describe reminiscences, leading to the modern meaning.
Topic: Five Points / Curtis Park - Harlem of the West, Anti-Black Racism, Redlining
Important Dates: 1920s
Redlining in Curtis Park
From CurtisPark.org - The (Curtis Park) neighborhood was home primarily to persons of European descent at first, but by the 1920s, both African Americans and Latinos began to arrive. By the first decades of the 20th century, Welton Street had become the economic and social hub for Denver’s black community, members of which had taken up residence in the area as well. The largest concentration of African Americans was on the other side of Welton, in the area now called San Rafael, but many also lived in Curtis Park, primarily on California Street one block over from Welton but elsewhere in the neighborhood as well.
By the 1920s, people of Mexican descent also began to move into Curtis Park. Though restrictive covenants were aimed primarily at Black Denverites, there was also prejudice against Latinos. Gradually, nonetheless, persons with Spanish surnames began to appear as residents in the neighborhood. Only a handful are listed in the 1926 edition of the Denver Householder’s Directory, many more in the 1936 directory, and by 1942, the directory shows that Curtis Park was home to a fairly large number of Chicanos.
Originally, it was economic diversity that characterized the neighborhood as one can see from the great variety in the sizes of the houses of Curtis Park. As Black Americans and Hispanic Americans moved into what had been, and continued to be in part, a blue-collar Anglo part of the city, Curtis Park’s diversity became more ethnic than economic.
The population of Curtis Park continued to grow as more and more people, unwanted elsewhere, crowded into the neighborhood. As a result, even modest, relatively small houses were divided up into two or three units, providing needed housing for some, and income for others. The population of Curtis Park probably spiked in the 1940s and 50s. It must have been a very crowded, busy place in those years.
A final layer of ethnicity was added when Japanese Americans arrived at the outset of World War II. Like those who came before them, they were not welcome to live where they wanted, so many of them came to Curtis Park, which had long since become home to others who were not wanted elsewhere. The greater Five Points area, which included Curtis Park, was considered undesirable. As a result, housing costs were low and there were no restrictive covenants to keep you out; so those of modest means, or with no place else to go, could put a roof over their heads and settle down in this historically diverse, accepting place. (D) (E)
In 2018, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library hosted an exhibit entitled "Un-design the Redline" which traced the history and consequences of official racial discrimination in housing and development in Denver and across the United States. Here is more from the Denverite:
Text, graphics, photographs and maps detail redlining, the federal government’s practice of denying home loans to residents of neighborhoods that were predominately minority or immigrant. On maps, the “best” neighborhoods were shaded green, next-best blue, declining yellow and red hazardous. The map Lewis surveyed was an enlarged version of one underwriters would have used in the 1930s showing Five Points, then African-American and now home to Blair-Caldwell, a bright red. Smaller towns would not have had the maps, but underwriters would have referred to the federal criteria. Pictured to the left: A map of Denver's redlined districts. "Undesign the Redline," an interactive display at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Five Points, Nov, 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite).
“There weren’t any areas that weren’t impacted,” said Katie McKenna, senior program director for Enterprise in Denver.
Other maps in “Undesign the Redline” use overlays to show that the redlined neighborhoods of the past are today’s areas where residents have low income, wealth and savings and high poverty and unemployment. The denial of loans meant blacks and other minorities did not have the same chance to turn their homes into wealth they could pass on to their children and grandchildren. The redlined neighborhoods were also often neglected when it came to infrastructure and city services.
“You can see how our explicit policies of the past have turned into the structural racism of today,” McKenna said.
Rodgers added: “If you look at the areas that are gentrifying or are prone to displacement (today), they match up with the redlined areas.”
The Colorado Office of Health Equity contributed its own map to the show that illustrates how redlined neighborhoods are now those with the unhealthiest people, a result of stress, environmental issues, access to nutritious for and other issues.
(There are many great stories that come from this community over the years) - Stories that could inspire new generations to consider how to undo the continuing impact of past deliberate, discriminatory actions and policies.
Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, founded in 1994 is located in the historic Five Points District in Northeast Denver—a space committed to fostering growth, strength, and voice in the community.
These ends are achieved through the exploration of visual and performing arts, celebrations, and programs that inform and enrich people’s lives. The Cultural Center’s Award-Winning Open-Mic Poetry Set has been at the center of the growing national cultural arts movement and has hosted such literary notables as Amiri Baraka, Jessica Care Moore, Kevin Powell, Sonia Sanchez, and Haki Madhabuti. The Center has also born the dynamic cast and production of Ego Trippin’, a program that fuses poetry, jazz, hip-hop, dance, and music in an exploration of pivotal social issues and ills. Committed to youth, the Cultural Center also sponsors an annual free summer lunch program for area children, providing sustenance, support, enrichment and fun for young people during the summer. The center hosts a variety of special events and celebrations that serve to ground community throughout the year including Juneteenth, Kwanzaa, and Black History Month activities.