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Pride and Prejudice 

The "other" history of Colorado Springs

Considering the history of Colorado Springs, most of us automatically think of founding luminaries like Gen. William Palmer, Spencer Penrose, Myron Stratton, Charlie Tutt and Irving Halbert.

Our thoughts run to Little London, Glen Eyrie, The Antlers Hotel, the El Paso Club, Wood Avenue and Colorado College.

One thing about this picture, though: it's genteel, it's privileged, and it's lily-white.

It's the picture painted by most of the histories of this town -- including the best to date, Marshall Sprague's excellent Newport in the Rockies. One might assume, in reading them, that the story of Colorado Springs is the story of a handful of prominent white males and their business partners.

The press hasn't done much better than traditional historians, offering token coverage each February during Black History Month. The same spokespersons tend to be quoted every year, the same stories told over and over.

It was this curious and consistent omission of blacks from historical records that prompted Lu Lu Pollard and John McDonald, in 1982, to form the Negro Historical Association of Colorado Springs. And John Stokes Holley evoked an apt twist of irony by titling his 1990 account of local black history The Invisible People of the Pikes Peak Region.

Barely acknowledged and seldom told, there is a side to Colorado Springs history few know of. Rife with tales of the Ku Klux Klan and "whites only" restaurants, hotels and swimming pools, this history teems with vitality, heroism and family strength in the face of stacked decks and steep odds.

Luckily, oldtimers are still around who were eyewitnesses to and key participants in the "other" history of Colorado Springs -- the story we rarely, if ever, hear. Their tales are worth hearing.


The Strouds

Imagine yourself somehow transported back to Colorado Springs between World War I and II. You'll have a hard time getting your bearings.

You find yourself in a sleepy, provincial, bland little town with a population ranging from 30,000 (in 1920) to 35,000 (in 1940). There is no Fort Carson, NORAD or Air Force Academy; no I-25, Highway 24 or Academy Boulevard; no UCCS or Pikes Peak Community College.

If you are "colored" (the term then in use), you can't eat in most restaurants or get a room in any hotel. At all five movie theaters, you have to sit in the back few rows of the balcony so as not to annoy white customers. You can't swim in the YMCA, Memorial Park or Broadmoor Hotel swimming pools, and you can watch, but not take part in, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade.

You can't teach public school, and you can't live in dorms at Colorado College. You have to sit in the back of the class in elementary school, and you can't participate in after-school or weekend activities at Colorado Springs High School.

If you aspire for a livelihood higher than maid, janitor or menial laborer, you'll have to leave town and live elsewhere -- even if you have a college degree.

And if you get "uppity" about any of this, look for the Klan to drop by some dead of night to proffer a little corrective guidance.

Such was the day-to-day reality for Lu Lu Pollard as one of the six girls and five boys composing the Stroud clan, one of the most prominent black families in the first half-century of Colorado Springs.

Her father, K.D. Stroud, came to Colorado Springs from Oklahoma Territory, where he graduated from Langston University, taught school and preached.

He came to Colorado Springs because he believed, like most blacks who came here in the pre-World War I era, that "coloreds" would be accepted and free to prosper here.

"That tended to be true while Palmer was alive," explained Lu Lu in a recent interview. "Once he died, though, things went downhill fast."

A Quaker and Civil War veteran, General William Jackson Palmer wouldn't permit segregation in the town he founded in 1871. Until his death in 1909, blacks were able to own businesses, they had two newspapers of their own (The Sun and The Enterprise), and they were free, within certain unspoken bounds, to do as they wanted.

By the time of Stroud's arrival in 1911, however, employment for blacks was limited to menial labor and service occupations.

Because blacks weren't allowed to teach here, Stroud answered a help-wanted notice at the post office and took the required job test. Despite his college degree and his score of 98 percent on the test -- the highest of any applicant -- a white person got the position.

To feed his growing brood, Stroud took the only job he could find -- shoveling coal for 7 cents a ton at the Rock Island Railroad yard in Roswell, walking the five miles to work every day, putting in 10-hour days, seven days a week.

Stroud was able to escape that nightmare only when, five years later, he got a chance to purchase a horse and wagon on payments and took to hauling baggage for tourists.

He expanded operations in the mid-1920s to form the Stroud Brothers Trucking Company, hauling ashes, junk, gravel, fuel and fertilizer. That remained the largest black-owned business in Colorado Springs until he retired in 1934.

Throughout these hard times, Stroud and his wife made sure that every one of their 11 kids excelled in school.

"Conversation at dinner was limited to current events," said Lu Lu. "At dinner's end, Dad announced the next night's topic and assigned one of us to argue the pro position and another to take the con position."

All 11 kids were at or near the top of their class from first grade at Bristol Elementary through graduation at Colorado Springs High. "Dad constantly reminded us that we were smart, and he required us to make good grades," said Lu Lu. "We were all honor students because he would have killed us if we weren't."

All 11 kids, including the six girls, went on to attend college at a time when few people, white or black, male or female, did so. Six graduated, four of them from Colorado College.

Instead of flinging doors open, however, their classroom successes provoked antipathy and ridicule. The Stroud kids learned the score of racism in America early on.

A precocious and articulate child, Pollard soured with bitterness each morning following the schoolwide recitation of the pledge of allegiance at Bristol Elementary.

"We'd evoke 'liberty and justice for all' and then return to segregated seating where we'd sing Stephen Foster 'nigger' songs like 'Camptown Races' and 'Old Black Joe,' " she remembered. "All the while, the white kids would be turning around to look and grin at us black kids. The teacher addressed the back row kids as 'darkies.' "

Lu Lu said that if the black kids took exception to this treatment -- which they frequently did -- there was trouble.

"Fights with white kids were a daily occurrence," she said. "There was hardly a day when at least one Stroud kid wasn't chased home by rock-throwing white kids. My parents finally went to school to demand that the principal do something. His solution was to dismiss the Stroud kids from school three minutes early every day."

Some of Lu Lu's most dismaying stories center on Dolphus, the second-oldest of the Stroud kids.

In first-year Latin at Colorado Springs High School, Dolphus scored 100 percent on every test, including the final, but got a B on his report card. When he challenged his teacher how this could be, the teacher replied: "I don't give A's to colored kids."

Dolphus was assigned to a different teacher the next semester, but the grade stood.

An exceptional student, Dolphus was accepted at Harvard but attended Colorado College where he was the sole black student until his sister, Effie, enrolled there too. He earned an A in every class except one and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

After a teaching stint at State Teacher and Agricultural College in Forsyth, Ga., Dolphus applied for a teaching opening at Colorado College. The CC administration told him that a black on the faculty wasn't possible. He was offered a job as janitor.

The incident most starkly attesting to his character in the face of overt racism occurred outside the classroom.

Though Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer High School) wouldn't let him run on the school track team, Dolphus was one of the premier distance runners of the 1920s. He won the Pikes Peak Marathon several times, in 1928 breaking the record that had stood 25 years.

At age 20 in 1928, he qualified for the Olympic Trials at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass., by winning the 5,000 meters at the Rocky Mountain Regional championships in Denver. The winner of each event at the Trials would represent the United States in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

Dolphus' daughter, Juanita Martin, relates that winners of the Denver meet were supposed to have transportation to the trials provided, but meet officials reneged in Dolphus' case. "They wouldn't let him train with the team, and they wouldn't let him travel with the team to Boston," she said.

Bitterly disappointed but resolutely defiant, Dolphus chose to hitchhike the 2,000 miles to Boston and compete in the July 1 meet anyway.

He left Colorado Springs at 4 a.m. on June 25 with $10 in his pocket, ate only peanuts (purchased at 2 cents per pack) and slept in cemeteries the entire way. He carried a golf club, ostensibly as a walking stick, but really for self protection.

Those being the days of the Model T and long before interstate highways, huge stretches of road en route were nothing more than dirt two-laners for hundreds of miles. Hours would pass without a car going by.

Dolphus' final ride brought him into Cambridge a scant six hours prior to race time. Weak from hunger and lack of adequate sleep, he fell behind early in his race. His dreams of glory at Amsterdam ended up in a heap when he passed out six laps into the race.

The Strouds, though, refused to "know their place" or bow to injustice in meek silence. They had a conviction, nurtured by their parents, that whites who attempted to make them feel inferior had serious character defects.

"We were about the most defiant family in Colorado Springs," said Lu Lu.

She relishes relating the time when "Dad, in defiance of segregated seating at the movies, marched five of us kids to one of the theaters one Sunday afternoon and sat us in the front row, where only white people could sit. When the usher ordered us to move to the balcony where we belonged, Dad raised himself up to the full height of his six-foot, four-inch frame, looked that usher squarely in the eye and threatened to knock him out of the building.

"He didn't bother Dad any further," said Lu Lu, grinning.

Racism in this town, however, was not confined to humiliation, name-calling and seating arrangements. Sometimes it extended into physical danger.

Lu Lu relates that the Ku Klux Klan was a major presence in Colorado Springs, all but running the town between the two world wars.

The Klan made a major surge in the early 1920s, gaining control of state legislatures in Indiana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Colorado, and succeeding in electing a number of members as governors, U.S. Senators and Representatives, and mayors of major cities.

In Colorado, Klan member Clarence Morley was elected governor, Rice Means was elected U.S. Senator, and Ben Stapleton (for whom the old Denver airport was named) became mayor of Denver. Klanners also took the positions of lieutenant governor, secretary of state and Supreme Court justice.

The Colorado Springs chief of police was a member of the Klan (his son was Lu Lu's classmate at North Junior High). A klavern met on the Westside at the Woodmen of the World Hall at 25th St. and Pikes Peak Ave. (now the Oddfellows Hall), and another met where the Hillside Center now stands.

Lu Lu says the Klan was a palpable, menacing presence throughout the 1920s and 1930s. "It was an extremely dangerous time for blacks," she said. "There was a threat of lynchings in the air. It was a genuine possibility, not just an abstract idea."

On July 4, 1923, the Klan burned a 30-foot cross atop Pikes Peak and crosses were burned on a number of occasions as a warning to non-compliant blacks. Curiously, Sprague gives no mention to the Klan in his Colorado Springs history.

The Strouds had several direct run-ins with the Klan. During a speech delivered by Dolphus to the Democratic Club, the Klan burned a cross in a nearby yard. When Kimbal -- the eldest of the Stroud children, co-founder of the local NAACP and one of this town's outspoken civil rights advocates -- purchased a house on the 300 block of West Mesa Avenue, the Klan burned it down the next night.

Though co-founder of the Negro History Assocation, Lu Lu doesn't dwell on the past. She insists that life for blacks in Colorado Springs has improved dramatically.

"It's 50,000 times better now than what it was back then," she said. "There may be pockets of prejudice here and there, but nothing in comparison to what it used to be. Colorado Springs today is like what Palmer had in mind when he founded it. I can go wherever I want and take part in whatever I want. I wish I were 20 years younger and could take full advantage."

Juanita, Dolphus' daughter, doesn't share her Aunt Lu Lu's upbeat assessment. A prominent jazz vocalist in her younger years, today she and her husband, Greg Johnson, produce a television show, Black Beat, that airs four days a week on Channels 4 and 17.

"When I worked as a maid at the Antlers Hotel one summer back in the 1950s, I wasn't allowed to use the elevator. I had to use the stairs, even if my arms were full of sheets and towels. When I waitressed at Ruth's Oven (the site of Jose Muldoon's today), I had to enter and leave by the back door. As late as the 1960s, the only blacks allowed to work on The Hill at the Air Force Academy were waiters.

"Things are a little better now," she said, "but we still have a long, long way to go. There's still a lot of prejudice. I have a love-hate relationship with this town. I'm discouraged and tired of fighting."


Justus and Alice Morgan

Justus and Alice Morgan were born and raised in Colorado Springs. Alice (nee McAdams) grew up at 519 E. Costilla. Justus and his 12 brothers and sisters grew up in the same Westside neighborhood where he and his wife have lived for nearly 50 years.

Continuity and longevity are in both their genes. Alice's mother, who was also born and raised in Colorado Springs, died last year at age 106. Justus' uncle and aunt died at 104 and 100 respectively, after a marriage that lasted 84 years, a feat that won them an appearance on the Jay Leno show.

The church has been an especially prominent social and cultural institution in the black community because it has been the sole institution in their lives over which African Americans like Justus and Alice Morgan had complete control.

Colorado Springs had six black churches in the years between the world wars, one of which -- The Church of God in Christ -- was founded by Justus' father, Charles, who came to Colorado Springs in 1918 after his mother had a "vision" that a Pentacostal church was needed here.

The elder Morgan founded the church in a tent in the back yard of a house at 717 N. Franklin Street. Spurred by his charismatic preaching and utter devotion to the community, the congregation grew rapidly, moving within two years to a small house at 624 E. Monument and then to a storefront at 634 E. Maple.

Revivals at the church were so popular that crowds spilled out into the street and onto lawns across the street. More than once, police had to disperse the crowd to enable the trolley to pass.

The church has been at its present location at 701 N. Spruce since 1921. Justus succeeded his father as minister when the elder Morgan died in 1965.

A major presence in the black community for over 70 years, the Morgans recall a Colorado Springs that, though rife with prejudice and social injustice, was less harrowing than the one Lu Lu Pollard remembers.

In the neighborhoods they grew up in, they say, blacks, whites and hispanics lived together harmoniously, and the kids all played with each other.

Such was not the case, however, in Colorado Springs at large. Only two restaurants in town allowed black customers: Pick-A-Rib on 6 W. Colorado Avenue, and Randall's Malt Shop at the intersection of East Costilla and South El Paso Avenue.

"There were a few other restaurants where blacks could get takeout if they went to the back door," Alice recalled. "We couldn't use the front door or sit inside, though."

The Morgans also remember being unable to use the YMCA or Monument Park swimming pools.

"The Monument Park pool finally opened to blacks in the 1950s," said Justus, "but only on Wednesday afternoons. And the pool was drained and cleaned every Wednesday night so that whites wouldn't have to be in water blacks had been in."

Blacks could swim at Prospect Lake, they say, but only on the east side, where there were no lifeguards, bathrooms or bath houses. The west side of the lake, which had a lifeguard and full facilities, was reserved for white use.

One of Justus' fondest memories is co-founding and playing on a black baseball team called The Brown Bombers, named in honor of heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis. (Initially, the team name was Clouds of Joy.)

The Bombers won the City League championship in 1949 and 1950. A left-handed pitcher, Justus had a high hard one, good enough to prompt try-out invitations from the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox.

He impressed the scouts enough at his tryout to get invited back for a second look but, as fate would have it, the Korean War exploded at that moment and Justus got drafted.

Alice and Justus both attended Colorado Springs High and graduated the same year, but they didn't date. That changed after Justus returned from the war in 1953.

"We were at a party, and he got to telling me about tennis," said Alice. "He went on and on about how he was going to teach me how to play, but he never did. We started dating, though." They were married in 1954.

Justus says he decided to follow in his father's footsteps when he "found the Lord" in 1957. He was assistant pastor for eight years, and has been head pastor since 1965, continuing his father's legacy in Colorado Springs.

Alice, meanwhile, made a little history of her own. In 1949, she was the first black to be admitted to the Beth-El School of Nursing, and she went on to become head nurse at Memorial Hospital.

She takes pride in noting that her mother, Eva Taylor McAdams, was the first black to sing in the Colorado Springs Chorale.


Sir Charles

Jazz aficionados recognize Sir Charles Thompson as a highly sought-after pianist during the years when giants like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Dexter Gordon were at their wailingest peak and 52nd Street in Manhattan was the center of the jazz universe.

Thompson lived in Colorado Springs from 1924 through 1930, coming here at age six when his father, a Methodist minister, was assigned to the People's Methodist-Episcopal Church on the corner of North Royer and East St. Vrain. The church is still there, though as a different denomination under a different name.

It was during his Colorado Springs years that Thompson took up the piano.

His first instrument was the violin, which he played well enough to be named to the citywide band. His interest dampened, however, when, as he puts it, "They made it clear that the violin was not an instrument for black kids."

The Thompsons had a piano in their house, though, and Charles was inspired to take it up by listening to records of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and Fatha Hines.

His formal training extended to the first three John Williams books, but he basically learned to play in the manner of most jazz musicians -- replicating by ear what he heard on records.

Thompson quickly progressed to the point where he started getting paying gigs at house parties. "I made some good money -- more than some of the adults with jobs were making," he said.

His musical ambitions were stoked considerably when Count Basie came to Colorado Springs with the Bennie Moten Band in 1930.

"I went to that concert because my father would only let my older sister go if I went along as chaperone," said Thompson. "During a break, someone told Basie that I played, and he summoned me up on stage. I was only 12, but playing for Basie before that crowd really fired my interest."

Thompson left the Springs when his father was assigned a church in Flint, Mich.

Following a checkered early career, Thompson eventually returned to his father's home of Parsons, Kan., where he hooked up with future jazz greats Buck Clayton and Wild Bill Davis -- both of them also sons of ministers. The three undertook a season of serious jamming, honing their chops and learning each other's licks.

Thompson, in the meantime, frequented Kansas City, the mecca of jazz in those years. It was in now legendary, after-hours jam sessions in that town that many of the future greats took their lumps and perfected their art in nightlong "cutting" competitions, where it wasn't unusual for established stars to get their come-uppance by up-and-coming young turks.

Paying his dues and learning his craft, Thompson eventually migrated to New York City where, in the early '40s, he alternated with Thelonious Monk as the "house pianist" at Minton's Playhouse, the locale where the bop revolution was forged and Charlie Parker came of age.

During those years Thompson established himself as a regular on 52nd Street, home to such now-revered dives as The Open Door, The Onyx, The Deuces and The Five Spot.

"That was the highlight of my life," he said. "Every night, I played with all the world's greatest jazzmen. They were wonderful, intelligent men. I learned to play, how to swing, how to live life. We were young bucks having a wonderful time."

Thompson said his "Sir" moniker was bestowed by Lester Young during a weeklong gig at Caf Society in Greenwich Village.

This was the era of "Duke" Ellington, "Count" Basie, Nat "King" Cole and Lester "Prez" Young. Bestowal of a title was a rare honor that signaled one's full-fledged arrival.

As Thompson explained it, "One night Lester turned to me and said, 'You're a swingin' cat, Charles. I'm going to give you a title. From now on, you're Sir Charles.'"

Thompson went on to cut dozens of albums with Apollo, Columbia, Vanguard and other labels, several cuts of which -- "Robbins Nest" and "Stardust" in particular -- are classics.

He has over 50 compositions to his credit, the most famous being "Robbins Nest," which he wrote for Illinois Jacquette.

He lives nowadays in Los Angeles with his Japanese wife, Mikiko. He golfs daily -- "the greatest game ever invented" -- and still does gigs from time to time.

"My life has been a wonderful and exciting thing," he says. "It's been a ball."

Now in his '80s, Thompson doesn't remember much of his Colorado Springs years. He takes enormous pleasure, however, in recalling the time when, having secretly made a copy of the key to his father's car, he and some pre-teenage buddies took it for a joyride one night while the old man was presiding over a revival meeting.

Driving out to the Broadmoor, Thompson somehow high-centered the car on some trolley tracks. He and his buddies eventually managed to rock the car off the tracks, but they were gone longer than they'd planned. Upon returning home, they found the neighborhood swarming with police cars. Thompson's dad had reported the car stolen.

Panicking, Thompson and his buddies ditched the car two blocks away and played innocent. "Dad never said a word," said, "but I know he knew."

Many thanks to the Pioneers Museum for allowing us to use photos from its archives. Archivist Leah Davis Witherow would like to add similar photos and information to the museum archives about Hispanic, Asian and other African-American families with a Colorado Springs history. Witherow can be reached at 385-5649 or by e-mail at lwitherow@ci.colospgs.co.us.

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