Not many in Denver have heard about Dr. Charles J. Blackwood, Jr., one of its most accomplished residents. Now seems like an especially opportune time to share his story, with the unfortunate and untimely demolition of his former home at 2436 Gaylord Street in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood.
His home was an important historic marker for Denver, but it can no longer serve as such. Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, one of Denver’s oldest and largest neighborhood-advocacy organizations, is committed both to the preservation of our city and to the diverse stories of its residents.
We, along with community partners at the Colorado Black Health Collaborative and other groups, want to share Blackwood’s story.
His home was not unique, as the city has many Craftsman bungalows of about this 1927 vintage. This understated, one-story brick home, where the doctor and his wife, Vivian, lived and raised their family, had a small front porch, overhanging eaves, minimal landscaping, and other elements common with this expression of architecture.
Nor was the home’s demise all that remarkable. Sold at auction in 2020, it was erased from the 0.1-acre site.
Fortunately, even though his modest home is gone forever, Blackwood’s legacy will live on through an endowed scholarship for University of Colorado medical students in his name and at the landmarked American Woodmen Building, where he practiced medicine for decades.
More than six decades passed between the founding of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and 1947—when Charles Blackwood, the school’s first Black graduate, walked with his diploma in the top ten of his class.
He was born almost exactly a century ago, on September 25, 1921, in Trinidad, to parents who brought their children up as members of Grace Chapel A.M.E Church. His mother was a homemaker. His dad was a diesel technician for the Burlington Railroad, among the first African Americans to hold such a job in the U.S.
A young Charles was encouraged to attend college instead of running off with his band. He graduated from Trinidad State Junior College with honors and then received a scholarship to CU Boulder, where he graduated with a degree in chemistry.
His family always knew their son would become a doctor and he entered medical school in 1943 while a private in the U.S. Army. In those segregated times, Blackwood was relegated to experiencing campus life separated from his classmates, in lecture halls, and places to live.
After a two-year internship at Harlem Hospital in New York City, where he met his wife Vivian Eldridge, a nurse, Blackwood returned to Colorado. Here he finished residency training at Colorado General (now the University of Colorado Hospital) and Denver General (now known as Denver Health) and served as the first African American in the role of Police Surgeon for the Denver Police.
He broke the race barrier at every step of his studies and his professional life. After his residency he started a private practice and was the Supreme Physician for the American Woodmen, an African American fraternal organization that was founded in Denver and focused on community service, scholarship, employment opportunities, and insurance for African American Denverites. He was an instructor in the medical clinic of Colorado General Hospital and on the staff of General Rose Memorial Hospital.
From 1952-1955 he served with the United States Air Force and started the Radiology Department at Hamilton Air Force Base in California. After being honorably discharged, he was the first African American physician at St. Luke’s Hospital and was the first African American clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
His son remembers a focused and attentive dad. Blackwood was a member of the Kappa Psi Fraternity, the International AIDS Project, Sertoma Club, and the Colorado Epilepsy Association. Beyond his mission to serve, he loved to fish, play golf, and listen to jazz, among other interests. After retiring from his clinical practice, he founded the Blackwood Institute, focused on HIV/AIDS response and treatment.
Blackwood died on Aug. 11, 1993. He was returned home, buried in Trinidad alongside other members of his family.
It is the historic places and the stories that go with them that define our beloved city. And we are losing them each day. Let us commit ourselves to preserving these notable places to better understand our past in a way that makes clear the sacrifices and achievements that came before us.
Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods remains unequivocal in its support for diversity, equity, and inclusivity throughout Denver. We call on other neighborhood organizations to do the same. All too often, the stories of historically marginalized populations go untold and unrecognized. With all the growth and change around us, community-focused organizations should ensure Denver does not lose its rich history. Honoring the past and smart urban planning can go hand-in-hand.
If stories and places from Denver’s past are important to you, we hope you will consider joining Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods at chundenver.org. CHUN is dedicated to preserving the past, improving the present and planning for the future.
If you are committed to improving health and wellness in Colorado’s Black, African, and African American communities, visit coloradoblackhealth.org.
Finally, gifts in Dr. Blackwood’s honor can be made at giving.cu.edu/cjblackwood; proceeds benefit underrepresented minorities pursuing a degree in medicine.
Dr. Terri Richardson, M.D., of Aurora, is vice-chair of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative. Travis Leiker, of Denver, is president and executive director of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods. Bruce Caughey and Kevin Kelly, of Denver, are co-chairs of CHUN’s History Matters Committee.