In front of the Pikes Peak Center this summer will stand a life-size statue of Fannie Mae Duncan, Colorado Springs’ beloved African-American entrepreneur whose famous Cotton Club on West Colorado Avenue was the first business to permit patrons of all races during a time when the city was still segregated — an implausible feat in the political and social climate of her day.
But this had always been her message. Posted in black and white in the Cotton Club’s window, she let people know: “Everybody welcome.”
Fashioned by Fort Collins-based sculptor Lori Kiplinger Pandy, the bronze figure will be erected this summer, the first of a black woman in Colorado Springs. With her hand on her hip and a watchful eye, Duncan, who died in 2005, will now permanently overlook the city she called home for much of her life. It was a city she loved and one that, through her entrepreneurship, philanthropy, activism and vivacious dedication to the pursuit of an integrated community, she indisputably bettered.
She’s not the only one who shaped Colorado Springs into the city it is today. Duncan is joined by the likes of other African-American leaders, including retired Col. James Randall, a member of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen, who served 36 years in the U.S. Air Force both in active duty and in the Reserves, including serving at Headquarters Air Defense Command here; as well as the countless African-American families who came to Colorado following the Civil War in the mid-19th century.
According to the Pikes Peak Library District’s “African Americans in Colorado Springs” collection, these families came to “Colorado for far more than the gold that lay hidden in the depths of the earth.” Encouraged by Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer’s “decree that all children — black and white — would attend school together,” they came here seeking “the fortune that they had been denied, the fortune that would ensure their children a chance for success — a good education.”
And here, the black community flourished. African-Americans “became respected as shop owners and craftsmen, farmers and ranchers. Black-owned businesses were frequented by whites as well as blacks, and there were black-owned newspapers — the ‘Enterprise’ and the ‘Denver Statesman’ — where aspiring black journalists like W.H. Duncan perfected their skills. “Duncan even became City Editor of ‘The Sun,’” according to the PPLD collection.
We have so much for which to thank and honor these intrepid men and women. Their tireless work and dedication to a better community is forever intertwined into Colorado Springs’ roots, and it will not be forgotten.
Breeanna Jent has lived in the Pikes Peak region for three years. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and discovering all Colorado Springs has to offer, especially the food. Drop her a line or send your calendar events and community photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.