Over 100 people gathered in Stanley Marketplace’s unfinished space on Thursday evening, September 10 to talk about the request by Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM5280) to change the name Stapleton. Ben Stapleton, mayor of Denver in the 1920s, served at a time when the KKK ruled Denver, and he was a member of the Klan. The meeting, though orderly at all times, was filled with passionate, heartfelt expressions of concern. All the participants who spoke felt the name Stapleton is associated with fear, oppression and exclusivity. Based on the comments from 25 or more participants and the applause in response, the attendees appeared to be fully in support of pursuing a name change.
The meeting was called by SUN (Stapleton United Neighbors) specifically to address BLM5280’s concerns. SUN scrambled to find a last-minute meeting room after The Hub canceled due to space concerns. Stanley Marketplace agreed to share the large room that will become their event center. Many attendees brought their own chairs, or they stood or sat on the floor in the still-under-construction space.
SUN President Mark Mehringer explained that SUN operates by consensus, “ensuring that we don’t speak for a few loud voices and the silent majority views things differently.” One of the SUN board’s interests at the meeting was to hear community concerns and determine if questions about a Stapleton name change might be part of a future SUN survey.
The first speaker, Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, a Stapleton resident and member of the BLM5280 board, talked about what drew them to Stapleton: the commitment to affordable housing and, as a white family, they appreciated the vision of a truly diverse neighborhood. “While there are many things that could help strengthen our diversity, certainly an obvious place is to not have the name of a former Klansman. I believe it’s in the DNA of our neighborhood to be profoundly better than we are now. I’d like to invite us to go back to the roots of the vision that was in the Green Book—and I can’t think of a better way to start that than by changing a name that should have been changed at the get-go.”
Tom Gleason then briefly explained Forest City’s position on a name change and then responded to a long round of questions. “We are sensitive to the issues of concern about the past of the former mayor,” and for that reason, he said, Forest City has not used Stapleton in anything they have named. “What the community decides to call itself will be decided by the community, but it was agreed upon early on that because Stapleton was nationally and internationally known as a location that the name would have to be used to market the redevelopment. A successful product has to be marketed, and in doing that, what we are doing is bringing things to NE Denver that were lacking before the redevelopment began: affordable housing, schools, retail, open space, jobs.” He added that street connections from surrounding communities were extended into the old airport property and the public is invited to all the free summer activities on the Greens. He also pointed out that a name change would impact local businesses that use Stapleton as a locator.
The attendees, however, were not convinced that continued use of Stapleton as a locator is necessary.
One attendee, to a big round of applause, said, “If the use of a locator is the only problem, it seems we could develop a new habit for use as a locator.”
“Denver is one of the fastest growing markets in the country. People are going to keep moving here. Is there any evidence to show that not using Stapleton as a locator would actually stop them from moving?”
An attendee pointed out that Forest City might actually benefit from the publicity of changing the name.
After the Q&A with Gleason, attendees took turns sharing why the name change was important to them. Bill Fulton, who was one of the founding members of SUN, said he’s a huge proponent of a name change and grateful to Black Lives Matter 5280 for raising this issue. Fulton said, “This is part of a much deeper conversation we’re in the middle of as a country right now.” He added that Stapleton, as a predominantly white community, needs to understand the history of race in our country as we’re choosing to reclaim the name. “We should not miss the chance to win each other over as community members and eventually come forward to Forest City and say, ‘You have a chance to be internationally known as the community that reclaimed its own history in the right direction’…I appeal to each of us…to not miss the chance for a much larger story and a bigger movement that we’re part of and hopefully that we’ll be proud of.”
Stapleton resident Molly Ferensic said, “I think we should take the step now to change the name. It’s difficult now, but it won’t be easier in 10 years. It won’t be easier in 20 years. Personally I think that changing the name of Stapleton United Neighbors might be the place to start.”
SUN president Mark Mehringer reminds residents, “A public meeting is only a small sliver of a public conversation. I don’t want people to think that meeting was their only opportunity to be heard. This is not something to do in a rush.”
Mehringer said name suggestions SUN has heard are Justina Ford and Joseph Westbrook, black physicians in Denver’s history; Marlon Green, first black pilot for a major airline who flew some flights out of Stapleton; Northfield, Central Park, Park Creek and Westerly Creek. Naming suggestions should be emailed to StapletonUnited Neighbors@gmail.com along with the reason for choosing the name.
It is time to change. The association of Stapleton and the Klan are not debatable. Let’s move forward into the 21st century.
I’d really like to see the name stay the same. His associations with the Klan are debatable, but there’s no doubt that he did good things for Denver. When I try to explain to my daughters why we need to change the name, all they say is that “Stapleton is my home, I don’t understand.”