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Black History Month: Museum volunteer has personal connection with the tours she gives

Terri Gentry's family has deep roots in Denver's Five Points neighborhood.

DENVER – Terri Gentry loves telling stories about the rich African American history of Denver's Five Points neighborhood.

“This was the place to be and it was a great place to be especially from the '20s through the '60s,” Gentry said.

RELATED: Black History Month: Paul Stewart founded the Black American West Museum in the 1970s

Gentry gives tours at the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center and has a personal connection with some of the faces on its walls.

Credit: Byron Reed

“Josephine and Ernestine McClain…my dad’s mom is Ernestine,” Gentry said. “Their father is Dr. Ernest McClain, who is the first black licensed dentist in Colorado.”

The museum was founded by Paul Stewart in 1971 and Gentry’s family story is one of many told about black families from the area.

Credit: Byron Reed

“One of the cool things for me is walking into the museum and discovering all the people in here that I’ve known as a child,” Gentry said. “From the 1920s through the 1960s, you had the Welton Corridor and black business owners were scattered all over the neighborhood.”

RELATED: Black History Month 2019: A calendar of events in and around Denver

The neighborhood was dubbed the “Harlem of the West” thanks to local musicians like George Morrison who brought in artists like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton.

Credit: Byron Reed

“He brought all these people in here to celebrate jazz…jazz was happening at the time,” Gentry said.  “A lot of these artists had to stay with Mr. Morrison because we couldn’t stay in the hotels…we weren’t allowed to stay in the downtown hotels.”

And if they didn’t stay with George Morrison, sometimes the artists would head for the mountains.

Credit: Byron Reed

RELATED: Black History Month: Dr. Justina Ford was Denver's first female African-American physician

“Lincoln Hills is 35 miles west of Denver and it was the only black-owned black resort west of the Mississippi River owned by Winks Hamlet,” Gentry said.

These stories from the past make volunteers like Gentry proud of a place she says feels like home.

“The museum is home for me because it’s my ancestors, it’s my history, my family, my neighbors,” Gentry said. “It's who I am and I’m so humbled to be here.”

If you would like more information about the museum, click here.

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