Old Stapleton Airport Tower, in Denver, Colo. (stapletoncommunity.com)

After decades under a KKK, racist shadow, Colorado’s Stapleton neighborhood finally renamed

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Following a unanimous vote, eleven delegates with the Master Community Association in Denver agreed Wednesday to take the first steps toward renaming what has been known as the Stapleton community.

“There are two real connections to the word Stapleton,” said Keven Burnett of the MCA. “Stapleton can be considered the historic airport and something of community pride and it can also reflect back to Benjamin Stapleton, whom the airport was named after, who was a KKK member and represents the institutional racism that we try to resolve today.”

Ku Klux Klan member #1,128 Benjamin Stapleton was Denver’s mayor from 1923 to 1931 and 1935 to 1947. In “Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado,” author and historian Robert Alan Goldberg includes a quote from Stapleton during a July 14, 1924 address to klansmen near Jefferson County’s South Table Mountain.

“I have little to say, except that I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming election, heart and soul,” Stapleton said. “And if I am reelected, I shall give the Klan the kind of administration it wants.”

Keeping with his promise, Stapleton appointed fellow klansmen to high ranking roles. By this time, the KKK had over 35,000 Coloradans in its membership. In Denver, the Klan orchestrated acts of terror toward African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and various immigrant groups.

“(Stapleton) was the Mayor of Denver and appointed the manager of safety and a police chief who were also Klan members and kind of into law Klan values and racist values,” Rename St*pleton for All board chair Liz Stalnaker said. “He wasn’t always a Klan member but he did have racist policies during his whole 20-year tenure.”

Located on the grounds of the former Stapleton International Airport built in 1944 during Stapleton’s final tenure, the Stapleton community broke ground in 2001 and can be described as one community with 12 distinct neighborhoods, Burnett said.

“Stapleton, conceived in the ‘90s and built in the 2000s, is supposed to be a reflection of what a community is built like today; very progressive and with multiple income levels and lots of parks; something that’s very diverse.”

Resident Sandra Burroughs moved to the Stapleton community in 2008, but learned of Ben Stapleton’s involvement in the KKK five years later.

“My reaction to that was nausea,” Burroughs said. “Honestly if we had known the history, we probably would have chosen to live somewhere else… I did discuss it with friends and just had those private conversations about how gross it felt.”

Burroughs certainly was not alone in her disgust with the name Stapleton as efforts to remove the name from monuments are older than the community itself, Stalnaker said.

“Folks in the black community in Denver have actually been saying this for decades,” Stalnaker said. “The movement, my understanding was that there was a movement to change the name of the airport in the 1960s. People were saying this. Sometimes they were shouting it.”

In 2015, Denver’s Black Lives Matter 5820 marched through the community with flyers notifying residents of the name’s association. Following the aftermath of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville two years later, the late Dr. Gregory Diggs and Genevieve Swift founded Rename St*pleton for All.