Medallion Name – THE BLACK BARON
Significance – Barney Ford had the kind of pioneering spirit that made America great. Born a slave, he persevered over personal adversity and cultural prejudice to become a political force. Thanks to Mr. Ford, America is a better place for all people, particularly those that lived in the state of Colorado.
Mr. Barney Ford (1822-1902) was a former slave who dared to venture forth in the new frontier of Colorado. He eventually settled in Denver becoming a political activist, prominent businessman and sometimes millionaire.
Location – 39°44’43.7″N 104°59’24.7″W
Details – For the first part of his life, the man we know as Barney Ford did not have a last name. He was just a slave named Barney; a mixed-race male, born in Virginia in 1822 to a white plantation owner and his slave woman, Phoebe. Mother did not give Barney a last name, but she made sure that he learned the special skills of reading and writing. He read about the Civil War that was brewing. A smart and enterprising teenager, Barney was rented out to a cotton boat going through the Great Lakes. He left slavery behind by walking off the boat when it was docked in Illinois. Now an escaped slave, Barney traveled to Chicago through the Underground Railroad. He chose the name Barney “Launcelot Ford,” after a mighty steam that chugged into town. He married, got his barber’s license, and helped slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
It took the Ford family two attempts to get to Colorado. By the time they arrived, they were free people. Still, there was adversity everywhere because of the color of their skin. African Americans couldn’t ride on stagecoaches. They couldn’t stay in hotels, or stake a mining claim.
The Ford family turned the difficulties into opportunity. They built and managed two hotels, a restaurant and a barber shop, all catering to the untapped African American clientele. It made Ford one of the richest men in Colorado.
Concerned with the lack of opportunity for minorities in the West, Ford became active with Colorado politics, determined that African Americans should be equal citizens. He became the first African American to serve on a Colorado jury.
Early versions of the Colorado state constitution barred colored men from voting even though they were free. Ford traveled to Washington in 1867 to fight for the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which would give African Americans and other minorities the right to vote. He convinced the nation’s leaders that Colorado should be denied statehood until the Colorado constitution granted all men the right to vote. They listened, and Colorado’s initial application for statehood was denied. After ratifying the constitution as per Ford’s insistence, Colorado was admitted to the United States in the centennial year of 1876.
Barney Ford blazed a trail, expanding the paths of African American opportunity all of his life. His contributions to Colorado are honored by a stained-glass window in the State Capitol and he is among the elite few inducted into the Colorado Association of Pioneers. In Denver, there is a plaque outside of Coors Field, an elementary school and this Black Baron medallion along the Wall Street of the Rockies walk of fame. In Breckenridge, you will find Barney Ford Hill where he was the first African American to attempt to stake a mining claim, as well as the Barney Ford House Museum at 111 Washington Ave, Breckenridge, CO 80424.
- What skills made it easier for Barney Ford to succeed?
- Why is Barney Ford recognized today?
- How did Barney Ford affect the Colorado state constitution?
- Why did Barney Ford want to help other people?
- How would you like to help people?