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COLUMN: Remembering an early local Civil Rights leader

By: Rachel stovall
October 11, 2017 Updated: October 11, 2017 at 4:50 am
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Ever had insomnia? It's awful. You wake up in the middle of the night and toss and turn. If you're like me you get up and try to do something. So there I was, washing dishes at 3 a.m. I just wished that I could get the sounds out of my head.

No, I wasn't having a nervous breakdown. I'm was thinking about the Las Vegas shooting. My mind replayed incessantly the sounds and images fed to me by television and social media. And then God help me, the commentary.

I took it all in. The shame. The conspiracy theories. The calls for gun control. The conjecture regarding the shooter. The panels of experts with their bobble heads droning on like machines. And on. And on.

I was so done! I just wanted to focus on something else. Something beautiful or peaceful. I finally drifted back into a tortured sleep.

The following day, I was invited on a walk. I felt better as I parked in downtown Colorado Springs. In the shadow of the mountains, I headed into the Pikes Peak Center. But, the meeting was not in there. So I adjusted my course to head into the Office of the County Commissioners.

May I confide in you? I know that politics is generally war. Meetings are emotional bloodbaths. Accusations can fly like missiles headed for a target. I breathed a silent prayer for peace and headed into the waiting area.

Everyone was smiling. I was bewildered. This was a political meeting? With our county commissioners? After introductions, our group headed outside for the walk.

Our walk was facilitated by an artist - a sculptor named Lori Kiplinger Pandy. This artist has done world-renown busts of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Her work is in national museums. As we walked, our county commissioners led by Stan VanderWerf and Longinos Gonzalez worked with the facilities director and artist and chose a spot for a statue of Fannie Mae Duncan.

For those of you who do not know, back in the 1950s and beyond, Fannie Mae Duncan operated the hottest spot for jazz in our region - The Cotton Club. Jazz lovers flocked to see the talents of artists such as Duke Ellington, Etta James and many legends of the day. Her club was not without controversy, for it was racially integrated in a time where integration was not allowed.

A sign adorned the front window of the club: "Everybody Welcome". While presenting musicians, comedians and other artists, Fannie Mae, a black woman, served the public quietly for 28 years. She also helped to found the 400 club, a organization that provided for those in need regardless of race or religion.

Duncan is an example of the best kind of civil rights protester. Her ability to connect with anyone allowed her to win over patrons and public officials alike. The chief of police simply gave up on trying to stop her. Her civil disobedience was so civil it became legendary. Beloved by our community, her story will be told to countless generations.

In a time of such racial division in our nation and communities, we need to live "Everybody Welcome". I noticed the excitement and happiness embodied by the group choosing the spot for the statue.

Commissioner VanderWerf spoke quietly of filling the plaza with many statues that would tell the story of art and those who support it in the Pikes Peak region. Many entities - the Pikes Peak Center, The Pioneers Museum, and The Women of Influence agreed with no argument to memorialize the quiet heroism of a woman who honored everyone equally.

It was the best political meeting that I have attended.

As I walked away, I knew that I would sleep well. In my head was a new sound. "Everybody Welcome."

If you would like to help to bring this vision of public art to life, send your donation to:

Everybody Welcome Sculpture, Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, 215 S. Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.

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Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Rachel is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.

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