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Black History Month: Cemetery provides glimpse of Denver's African American historical figures

Some of the Denver areas most prominent African American historical figures are buried at Fairmount Cemetery.

DENVER — Cemeteries can provide a history lesson and as part of Black History Month, 9NEWS visited Fairmount Cemetery in Denver to learn about some of Denver's historical African Americans.

At just under 300 acres, the cemetery is one of the largest in the state. It is also considered the most prestigious cemetery in the state by many and a place where segregation doesn't have a place.

“All over the cemetery you have African Americans,” said Jim Cavoto, Director of the Fairmount Heritage Foundation.

He knows the history within the grounds.

“You've got the wealthy and people just like all of us,” Cavoto said.

Among the nearly 180,000 people buried at the cemetery are some of Colorado's prominent African Americans. A doctor was among the first African Americans laid to rest there.

“Justina Ford and she was a doctor, but they wouldn't give her a medical license, and this was in the early 1900s because she was a woman and she was black,” said Cavoto. “She worked out of her home and delivered over 7,000 babies in her home in five points.”

Then there's Joseph Westbrook. He was a fair-skinned black pharmacist known for helping people beyond medicine. He died in 1939.

“He used to go to the Klan meeting take notes and then warn people about what the Klan was about to do,” said Cavoto.

His grave sits in what was once a mostly white section of the cemetery not far from the grave of the man he protected others from.

“The founder of the KKK in Colorado is not too far from this grave site,” Cavoto said.

The grounds hold lessons in much more recent history too. Like the grave for fallen Denver police officer Celena Hollis. She was laid to rest there just six years ago. In 2012, she was shot in the head while trying to break up a fight at an event in City Park.

“On the marker, it's got her badge number,” Cavoto said. “Every life is valuable, and everybody had someone who loved them, and I think that is great to remember and that's the bottom line.”

Remembering the all that make up Denver's past regardless of race.


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