The Stapleton neighborhood of Denver is one of the fastest growing areas in a city known for its population boom. Founded first as the Denver Municipal Airport in the late 1920s, it was renamed for Mayor Benjamin Stapleton in 1944, a name that it retained until being replaced by Denver International Airport in the mid 1990s. At that point, the vast tract of land was reclaimed and is now one of the largest neighborhoods in Denver–and also one of the most racially diverse. That diversity has led to many questioning why the neighborhood should retain its namesake, as Mayor Stapleton was an alleged Ku Klux Klan member and, even if he wasn’t, certainly had many friends who were and owed much of his political career to the hate group.
Black Lives Matter 5280, a group founded to raise awareness about some of the racism still present in the modern era, began putting flyers out over the weekend to educate residents and other Denverites about the history of the name. Denver history is often not well known, as so many of its residents are from out of state. The negative history of the Mile High City, as well as the state of Colorado, is often ignored as well, thanks to its questionable relationship with the Klan.
In the 1920s, the KKK pretty much ran the state. In fact, they had control over both parties, ran every branch of state government, as well as many of the city and county governments, and had more power in the Centennial State than any other state at the time. Mayor Stapleton was allegedly one such member and, thanks to their support, he was mayor of Denver for all but two years between 1923 and 1947. During that time he oversaw the creation of the aforementioned Denver Municipal Airport, the Red Rocks amphitheatre, the Civic Center, and the massive expansion of the parks system.
However, he also supported the KKK.
At first, Stapleton denied his links to the white supremacist group, but once elected, he dropped all pretenses and began packing every office he could with Klansmen. Once revelations of his links to the Klan became public, a recall election was held. He won the election in a landslide, and the Klan celebrated by burning crosses on South Table Mountain.
Current Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who is black, has yet to publicly comment on the matter. Other residents have spoken out in support of the Change the Name movement, and an online petition on Change.org has begun getting traction already.
With race relations in the United States beginning to show signs of old tensions thanks to police violence and casual racism in the name of tradition–whether it’s confederate flags, statues of pro-slavery soldiers, or areas named for Klansmen. Most of the time people aren’t even aware of how many things are named for people who have a sordid history.
What do you think? Should Stapleton retain its name out of tradition, or should it be renamed after someone with less of a checkered history? Or does Mayor Stapleton’s legacy of creating lasting public works outweigh his affiliation with the most notorious hate group in the United States?