Remembering Barney Ford, a civil rights pioneer who escaped slavery, became Colorado entrepreneur

Hidden History
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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- Tourists from around the world travel to Breckenridge to enjoy magnificent ski slopes, restaurants and shops, but many may be surprised to learn that the mountain town was once home to one of history’s greatest civil rights figures and entrepreneurs, Barney L. Ford.

Ford’s former home is now a museum at the corner or Washington Avenue and South Main Street.

"He is one of our most obscure important pioneers and founders of the state. He should not be this obscure," historian June Walters said.

Ford’s former home can only be described as grand and luxurious, something unimaginable for a man who was born into slavery in Virginia in 1822.

Although Ford was the son of a plantation’s owner, his mother was a slave, so he too suffered in bondage.

After escaping with the help of the famed Underground Railroad, Ford eventually ended up out West hoping to mine for gold and stake his claim. But that dream would never come to reality.

“He was burned out, he was chased off his claims," Walters said.

She explained that African Americans were forbidden to stake claims in the Colorado Territory.

“He was chased off by the sheriff. Men of color didn’t have real property-owning rights," Walters said.

Determined not to give up on finding his way to success, Ford opened a barbershop in Denver at 1514 Blake St. in the district known today as Lower Downtown.

The building’s original doors are on display in Breckenridge, where Ford also owned several businesses.

The "Downstairs at Eric’s” restaurant, which is owned by the town’s current mayor, exists at the original location of one of Ford’s eateries.

Ford went on to create a business empire that stretched from Colorado to Wyoming. He then used his newfound influence to fight for equality. Many territorial legislators visited Ford’s Denver barbershop. It was there that he learned of the debate over Colorado’s statehood, which started in 1868.

Non-whites would not have voting rights, so Ford organized a petition drive and traveled to Washington, D.C. to make an astounding plea for equality. Among those who signed the petition were the sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas.

Walters says Ford’s influence and historic footprint benefits communities across the West today.

“He was including everyone -- Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics. His progression in politics, I think, put Colorado in a more progressive position that it is today.

Learn more about the Barney Ford House on its website.

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