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History Colorado working to uncover untold stories for African American history collection

"So many stories have been passed over and so many people, they don’t understand the impact African Americans have had in the west," said Dexter Nelson II

COLORADO, USA — Written history can come with gaps. Researchers at History Colorado are working to fill those as they begin to uncover untold stories of historically marginalized communities and figures. 

The Associate Curator of  Black History and Cultural Heritage, Dexter Nelson II joined History Colorado in September 2021 and immediately began looking into Colorado history that may have been passed over.

"There’s a whole unexplored section of African Americans in the west that we’re really hoping to shine a light on," Nelson said. 

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Edwin Hackley is a great example of that, he said. From what he and other researchers have amassed, here's what we now know about Edwin Hackley, according to Nelson:

  • Hackley had a fairly middle-class upbringing and graduated from Michigan Law School in 1880. 
  • By 1883, he was licensed to practice law in Colorado, making him one of the earliest Black lawyers in the state. 
  • He practiced law for 14 years before switching professions and becoming editor of The Statesmen, a Colorado newspaper. The paper is now known as The Denver Star.
  • Hackley moved to Philadelphia and married Sarah Harrison. 
  • In 1930, Hackley and his wife published a book they titled "The Hackley and Harrison Hotel and Apartment Guide for Colored Motorists", which many see as a precursor to Victor Hugo Green's "Negro Motorist Green-Book" which was first published in 1936.

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Credit: History Colorado
Nelson said this is the closest thing to a photo History Colorado has uncovered of Edwin Hackley.

"We’re really passionate about this story that we recently found and tried to scratch at the surface to see what all is there and what can we connect to Edwin Hackley and his impact here," said Nelson.

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History Colorado is still actively looking for more things to help tell Hackley's story. Individuals who may know more about Hackley or have connections to him are encouraged to contact Nelson at dexter.nelson@state.co.us.

He also invites people to reach out if they have any other stories related to African American history in Colorado that have yet to be told. 

"We’re opening the doors and saying hey, we want to hear from the community, what do you want to see more of and how can we work together to tell these stories." 

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