Black history highlight: Blair Caldwell library

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DENVER - FOX31 and Channel 2 News continue to shine the spotlight on Black History Month and the contributions African Americans have made and continue to make around our communities.

In last week's Black History Highlight, Mayor Wellington Webb and Mayor Michael Hancock talked about one specific place they think everybody in Denver should visit. That place is the Blair Caldwell African American Research Library.

At first glance the building looks like just another library. It's not until you go upstairs do you realize the historical value this place has. There are stories from all decades, details on leaders from the past and present. There are visuals of various contributions African American made to the Rocky Mountain West.

“Our focus is to put the whole picture together, the one that has been missing out of history particularly in the west,” said Terry Nelson, the special collection and community resource manager for the library.

It's safe to say Terry Nelson could tell you the history of just about anything and everyone. Most of the stories she tells comes straight from the exhibits at the Blair Caldwell Library Museum.

Inside the museum there are stories like the one of slave who bought their freedom and settled in the Mile High City. Stories like the one of Denver's all black fire station in Five Points. Fire Station three still stands today on the corner on Washington Street. There are also stories like the one of Dr. Joseph Westbrook.

“He was a dentist, the (Ku Klux) Klan had no idea that he was an African American, not one of them," Nelson said. "He would go to meetings find out what terrible things they had planned to do to the African Americans in Five Points and he’d come down here and warn them.”

As you walk through the museum you'll be amazed at all the greats that call Denver home. Actor Don Cheadle and musician India Arie. Madame CJ Walker, the first female millionaire in the United States started her well-known hair-care product business in Denver.

Nelson said, “We need to preserve this history.”

When Nelson was asked about the one thing she thinks people should know, she responded with, “How Mrs. Webb worked so hard for all those years to get the Martin Luther King Holiday established here in Colorado.”

Wilma Webb, a former Colorado State Representative and Mayor Wellington Webb's wife, introduced and passed the bill that formally established MLK Day in Colorado.

“The education system has gotten to the point that kids come in here from all over the country, and we have people from all over the country, and the young adults still don’t know who Martin Luther King was,” Nelson said.

It's experiences like this that remind Nelson why the library is needed.

“It’s very important to know that we do nothing by ourselves," Nelson said.

The library holds not just black history, not just Denver or Colorado history, but American history.

Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma Webb had a vision for the library, they're the reason why the library is here. The building was dedicated in April of 2003, it was one of the last things Mayor Webb did before his time in office was up.

More details on the library and its museum can be found here. The library and the museum are open six days a week, just walk in and ask for directions to the third floor museum.

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