Is Stapleton even the name of our neighborhood? If it’s not, then how can we change it?
Forest City, with the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC), decided years ago that the name would be used in a limited role as a “locator” (given that it was nationally and internationally known as Denver’s airport for many decades), while they built what was supposed to be the diverse community envisioned in The Green Book, with individual names for neighborhoods, schools, parks and retail centers. The name, Stapleton, was supposed to appear in small font on all signs and neighborhoods, parks, schools, streets, were to be given another name. The danger was and still is that instead of the name being phased out and only used as a locator, it has become Forest City’s brand and the symbolic violence of the name is present throughout the community, including logo-wear worn by Stapleton Master Community Association (MCA) employees. In retrospect, even original members of the Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) Board, who decided to use the name, have come out to say that this was a mistake and that it should be corrected as soon as possible. The SDC is looking into this as well. To date, at least 140 businesses and organizations honor the name.
The practices of systemic segregation of communities and gentrification have a long, storied history in Colorado and Denver. Indeed, some of our past and current communities of color and difference exist because formal, legal race-restrictive covenants prevented people from living in certain neighborhoods. Further, the practice of redlining, in Denver contributed to the existence of some of the current communities of color. When gentrification occurs, real estate and commercial development tends to displace neighborhoods that include diverse, poor and working class citizens. Current gentrification efforts in Five Points and Swansea are part of that legacy. So is the Forest City development of “Stapleton”.
We also know that locations and neighborhoods can be changed. The Lower Downtown Historic District, known as LoDo, was created by the enactment of a zoning ordinance by Denver City Council in 1988. In 2003, the city announced it’s River North Plan, and a subsequent River North Arts District (RiNo) was established, re-naming part of what we have known for decades as Five Points. A key to renaming and re-branding includes creating the political will to make the change.
In a Front Porch article from September of 2015, and in response to BLM5280’s campaign #ChangeTheNameStapleton, an “unresolved issue” is that “after all the discussions between 2000 and 2002, SDC was still left with two basic issues they couldn’t solve. The first was that Stapleton wasn’t then (and isn’t now) a name that is officially recorded anywhere. There was nowhere to go to officially “erase” the name and change it to another one. It’s simply a commonly used reference to a location in Denver.” The other unresolved issue what that “no one came up with a viable alternative.” In response to recent efforts by Rename St*pleton for All, Keven Burnett, executive director of the Stapleton MCA, talked about the technicalities that would be involved to officially change the name. Turns out that the name Stapleton is tied to all zoning documents with the city. From the first sale of land to Forest City, the property was legally named Stapleton. All the deeds, title documents and mortgages contain the word Stapleton in the legal property descriptions. So the name Stapleton is, quite officially, the name of the property. Quite a change of tune (and tactic) from responses in 2015 to change the name.
Rename Stapleton for All’s goals do not include removing the name from zoning documents, deeds, title documents, and mortgages. We care about removing the name from its visible places of honor.
Why are we dragging up history?
Stapleton’s reign is recent history. There are Denver residents, at present, that experienced firsthand terror during this man’s time in power. Klansmen marched openly in downtown Denver, the KKK controlled both houses in the Colorado legislature, cross-burnings were a regular occurrence, and the Manager of Safety (who reports directly to the Mayor and leads the Sheriff’s office, Denver Police Department, and Fire Department) was a Klansman.
There are still active white supremacist groups in the Denver area. Redlining and steering, while illegal, is still practiced today and gentrification is widespread. Opposing the name sends a message to the world, that we are a community that stands against white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQIA, and everything it preserves (unfair housing practices, racial profiling, etc.).
If the shoe fits?
Why do you want to erase history?
Monuments and neighborhood names glorify people and history, they do not educate about who the person was in life. History is learned in classrooms, books, scrolls, museums, and documentaries. Glorification is deserved by some: those who fought for the rights, liberty, and health of others, sacrificed for the good of the whole. When individuals are glorified who fought for exclusion, self-promotion, wealth, power, authority, or hate, their names and monuments become hurtful symbols, especially to those who are not part of the cultural majority. Reminders of the darkness of humanity. The torment of social injustice. Symbols that stand in the way of progress towards equality and justice for all.
The community acted quickly to remove the graffiti from Isabella Bird Community School. Why would this be any different?
Giving our community a more fitting name does not erase history. We are embracing community values and getting back to the vision of the Green Book. Coming together to reflect on Denver’s history and refocusing our goals for future generations. We aren’t just walking the walk, we are talking the talk. Will we forget our history? No. We are creating opportunities for discussion and learning. We are bringing attention to Denver’s ugly past, instead of falsely honoring it, so that we truly learn from our mistakes. This is already happening in Denver schools. Students have joined this movement and are educating themselves and each other about Benjamin Stapleton and our city’s recent past as a KKK stronghold.
Isn’t this all going to be really expensive?
Forest City is complicit in this. Their brand is their failure.
A goal of ours is to create a Business Advisory Team (goal “E”) to assist small businesses who would like to remove the name.
How can I get involved and support this effort?
The name doesn’t bother me. When I think of Stapleton, I don’t think of the KKK. Why is this my problem? If I don't agree to change the name, will I be accused of being a racist?
The founders of Rename St*pleton for All live in neighborhood located at the old airport too. We have joyful associations with our home, but we’re mindful that not everyone in Denver feels that way and we want to improve our community by making it more welcoming to all.
Do we think you are racist, if you don’t want to change the name? Our society is one of white supremacy. In some way or another we are all complicit in this. Depending on your privilege, you will benefit or suffer from white supremacy more or less than others. Consider how your voice in this matter affects others. We ask that you keep an open mind and consider the feelings of community members who do want to change the name.
Forest City, by perpetuating the use of the name throughout our neighborhood, makes us complicit in honoring the name of Benjamin Stapleton. Every time someone asks residents of the property, “Where do you live?”, and the answer is, “Stapleton,” we are likening the name with our home, a place that represents who we are. Sadly, many small business owners and organizations have used the name; many unknowingly and others in spite of Stapleton’s history because of that power that has been afforded it.
Many residents have been offended by local activists who have compared the name Stapleton to “KKKpleton”; however, the name Stapleton is synonymous to many Denverites with white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQIA sentiment. Our Jewish brethren could tell us very succinctly the importance of abolishing any remnants of their oppression. When was the last time you’ve driven down Hitler Boulevard or worked out at the 3rd Reich Recreation Center? Systemic and institutionalized racism is what our nation was founded on and we have become desensitized to it. Every day in our community this name inflicts harm. Driving through NE Denver, there are loving yard signs with the words, “Hate Has No Home Here”. This message, juxtaposed to the name Stapleton creates a contradiction. Simply put, what values do you want your community to represent?
If we rename, Stapleton, then what is next? Are we going to change the name of every building named after someone who participated in outdated beliefs? What about Thomas Jefferson? Didn’t he own SLAVES?! This feels like a slippery slope…
Why don’t we reclaim the name and make it our own?
Reclaiming the name is a noble idea and would be a worthy effort. However, it represents a perspective and strategy that is not part of this effort. Our work is organized around moving away from honoring, memorializing and associating with monuments, symbols and persons that are associated with racism, bigotry and white supremacy.
Do you really think renaming Stapleton is going to make a significant difference?
Bringing about lasting change is a multifaceted process. There are neighborhood and community groups doing all sorts of groundbreaking things; many of us are involved with them. These groups have affirmed our unique opportunity to stand with them by changing the name of our community and going through this transformational process. We view this as an opportunity to support movements dedicated to improving our community. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. Renaming Stapleton for All is worthy of our commitment.
This movement as a positive way to unify our community around peace and inclusion. This is only a first step. If we can’t make this symbolic change, how can we earnestly move forward? How can we fight to uphold the Green Book when our community’s name is hateful and unwelcoming?