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Wilson: Stapleton finally says goodbye to a Denver klansman’s legacy

Let Benjamin Stapleton be remembered where he belongs -- in the history books

At long last, Denver’s klansman mayor, Benjamin Stapleton, will have his name stripped from a neighborhood. Some said it could never happen. They said that like Charlton Heston and guns, we’d have to pry Stapleton’s name out of the Master Community Association’s cold, dead hands.  

Thankfully, nothing that drastic had to take place. Just a wave of anti-racist, revolutionary furvor that wracked the nation after the horrific death of George Floyd.  

With “Black Lives Matter” being painted on 16th Street leading up to the White House, the NFL apologizing to Colin Kaepernick and the mass removal of Confederate statues from all over the nation, this change was truly inevitable.  

Theo Wilson

On Stapleton’s Master Community Association Facebook page, they take a deceptively repentant tone. It’s as if they were just now being made aware that a neighborhood named in honor of a klansman could somehow be offensive. 

They state that, “The current conversation regarding racism and social injustice has increased awareness and education within our community. It has become more clear that continuing with the current name is hurtful to many residents of all backgrounds and life experiences.” 

That’s funny. I remember attending the vote to change the name last August, and in no uncertain terms, I had this very “conversation regarding racism and social justice.” 

I spoke about the inertia of institutional racism being one of its key weapons. In that meeting, they were asked to be on the right side of history, and to make the choice to stand with the tide of justice. They politely chose otherwise … until last Sunday.  

On Wednesday, MCA delegates plan to decide if they are to remove the name Stapleton from all branding, marketing and community outreach materials, including signage.  

They’ll also choose a new community name. After that, they are to send a resolution to the City and County of Denver and the neighborhood developer, Brookfield, requesting that they replace the name Stapleton with the new community name.

When former gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton was asked about how his family felt about the name change, his tweet was interesting. He ended the tweet saying he was all for equity and fairness — he was all for it. The beginning of the tweet was what was ironic. He stated that the democratic process was overlooked in deciding to change the name.  

The democratic process he speaks of was available only to those who owned property, and not the renters in the Stapleton neighborhood. Last August, there was a lot of outrage at how opaque and elitist this supposed democratic process actually was, which I outlined in a column for The Colorado Sun at that time.  

Now, another voice of the people is having its way when democracy breaks down. It’s the voice of the historically disenfranchised and presently disgruntled black community who is tired of boots — and knees — on their necks.  

It is the voice of whites in alliance with them in order to fight racism on all fronts. The vestiges of America’s bigoted past still carry a lingering stench in the present. It sends the wrong message to those who inherited unearned advantages that they can continue to be tone deaf with impunity.  

That voice will not wait for a rigged vote in order to be heard any longer. That’s the democracy that is changing the face of the country in 2020.  

There will hopefully soon be another noteworthy Coloradan to replace the name in the Stapleton neighborhood. Some have suggested Dr. Justina Ford, Denver’s first black female doctor.  

Others have suggested the unsung hero, Dr. Joseph Westbrook, the fair-skinned black man who infiltrated Stapleton’s KKK to inform the black community.  

Either way, it’s time for a change. People will always remember Benjamin Stapleton, but this time, it’ll be in a history book where he belongs. 

Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.

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