Stapleton to be Renamed “Denver Municipal”

stapleton name changeRoughly two weeks ago, the activist group Black Lives Matter 5280, plastered Stapleton with information regarding the namesake of the former Denver Mayor (1923 to 1945—not all consecutive) whom the former airport was named after. The information was not flattering, and is part of a grassroots movement to change the name of the Stapleton community. “The fact that the neighborhood is named after a Klansman is pretty degrading,” said Black Lives Matter 5280 spokesperson James Williams. “We think it’s time to change the name to something that does not promote hate, as the name Stapleton clearly does.” A recent Denver poll shows that when the word “Stapleton” is mentioned, 93% of Denver residents think of “young families and hot moms” and in a similar poll, only 26% knew the old airport was named Stapleton, 3% knew he was a former Denver mayor, and less than one percent know anything about his ties to the Klan. “It’s not about the numbers,” said Williams. “It’s about promoting hate. We feel the name is promoting hate towards not just African Americans, but the Jewish population as well.”

Many residents were surprised to learn about the history of the naming of the neighborhood. “I had no idea,” said Sam Noelting. “We moved here from out of state, so I had no clue. That’s pretty messed up.” Other residents knew a little history about the area, but not the specifics. “We knew it was Stapleton International Airport, and I think I knew the airport was named after a former mayor, but I’m not sure,” said resident Darci Crum. “But I didn’t know anything about his political history. Of course, in any context, when you hear KKK, it’s pretty offensive.”

Historical Context
Historian Brian Logan agrees. “In any era or conversation, the Klan is pretty repulsive,” said Logan. “But there are certainly some things people should understand when looking at culture in the 1920’s.” Logan says that in the 1920’s the Klan, “was not only anti-black but also took a stand against Roman Catholics, Jews, foreigners and organized labor.” The membership of the KKK in 1920 is estimated between four and five million people (US population at that time was just over 100 million), compared with the inconsequential 5,000 members of today.

The Klan in the 1920’s was closely aligned with prohibition and the ASL (anti-saloon league), of which both groups believed that immigrants and alcohol were to blame for “American demise”. “They blasted bootleggers, motion pictures and espoused a return to ‘clean’ living,” said Logan. “They appealed to folks uncomfortable with the shifting nature of America from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial nation. The Klan attacked the elite, urbanites and intellectuals.” Logan goes on to say that many candidates back in the 1920’s were associated with the Klan in some way, even if it was through the ASL. “Prohibition had lots of momentum in the 20’s,” said Logan. “So, it isn’t surprising that candidates all over the country, not just Colorado, would have ties to large organizations in order to get votes. There are many organizations today that candidates tie themselves to in order to get votes.”

Name Change
As this information comes to light (or really just comes to the forefront as it wasn’t a secret) 50 years after the death of Stapleton, and 20 years after the moving and subsequent renaming of the Stapleton airport to Denver International Airport (DIA), activists are hoping to have the Stapleton name removed for good. “The airport was actually called Denver Municipal Airport from its construction in 1929 until 1944 (August 25th to be exact) when it was renamed in honor of Stapleton,” said Williams. “Why not simply do the reverse and change the neighborhood back to Denver Municipal? It still keeps the history of the airport, but without that unnecessary dash of hate.” For their part, Forest City and the Stapleton MCA have yet to comment on the issue. “We are hoping to get enough momentum from residents and activists they are forced to confront the issue,” said Williams. A name change would also affect nearly 25 to 30 local businesses that would need to have an adjustment if the Denver neighborhood goes through a name transition. “It’s frustrating,” said a local business owner who preferred to remain anonymous. “I feel like we are so many steps removed from this. City honors former mayor by naming airport after him, airport leaves and changes names, neighborhood takes the name of the defunct airport grounds, and local business takes the name of the community. But somehow, I’m honoring a dude that died 50 years ago that most people don’t know anything about?” It’s uncertain if and when the name will be changed, but you can be certain the folks at Forest City are hoping this situation will just fade away.

Editorial Comment
To me, the name Stapleton refers to a neighborhood and has little to do with a former mayor or his politics. As a nation progresses, we will continue to recognize bigotry and exclusion from those who precede us. For example, twelve US Presidents were slaveholders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Ulysses S. Grant. Although we can agree being a slave owner isn’t acceptable in any generation, we can more easily excuse a slaveholder in the 18th or 19th century than we can a slaveholder in the 21st century. For that reason, we have not removed these presidents from our currency (penny, nickel, quarter, dollar bill, two dollar bill, twenty dollar bill, or fifty dollar bill), nor have we removed their names or statues from thousands of public projects across the country.

Clearly, Benjamin Stapleton’s accomplishments in Denver do not compare with the acumen of these former presidents. Which brings up an even greater point; who cares? There isn’t a Benjamin Stapleton Day in Denver where people march and celebrate what a great man he was nor is his name or likeness specifically honored in any project in the neighborhood that I can think of. In fact, I’m not sure any literature from Forest City mentions Benjamin Stapleton by name (I could be wrong).

So, the big question is, “does the name Stapleton in and of itself evoke hate?” Is it similar to ugly slang words used to describe minorities (of race, religion, sexual preference, etc.), or similar to symbols that immediately bring memories of pain and embarrassment such as the rebel flag or the Nazi symbol? My guess is most people can say the word Stapleton without worrying about offending anyone or making them feel uncomfortable. But, in the end, if the name/word “Stapleton” is offensive to groups to whom the KKK directed their hate in the 1920’s (immigrants, African Americans, Jews, Catholics, foreigners, unions, urbanites, intellectuals, and drinkers), than I am fine with a name change. After all, the word “Stapleton” just refers to the name of a neighborhood. Any emotion I have invested is with the members of this community, not the name of it. My contention would be changing the name doesn’t accomplish anything. There will not be any less or more hate in this world by renaming our neighborhood. I recently heard a quote I believe applies to this debate; “Never fear failing, but fear accomplishing something that doesn’t matter.” We should all agree that Black Lives Matter, but what is up for discussion is whether a name change does.

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One response to “Stapleton to be Renamed “Denver Municipal””

  1. Libby Comeaux

    Interesting opinion piece, but you don’t really mean it as satire, do you? You sound serious, and I would like to have a serious conversation with you about this.

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