Stapleton, Co is named after Denver KKK Mayor (apparently), and now residents are fighting over renaming it

Stapleton, Co is named after Denver KKK Mayor (apparently), and now residents are fighting over renaming it

Who doesn’t think of KKK racism when they hear, ‘Stapleton?'

CultureAugust 22, 2019 By Will Brendza

Stapleton (the peaceful neighborhood northeast of downtown Denver) is apparently named after an airport, that was apparently named after Denver’s loudest, proudest and most public Ku Klux Klan mayor.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many locals were probably unaware of, but which upset enough people that a small movement began, a crusade to change Stapleton’s name. The group “Rename St*pleton for All” argues that the name of this quiet little suburban neighborhood, immortalizes the memory of Mayor Benjamin Stapleton, who hated black people and ran with Klan.

“Removing the name Stapleton from places of honor in Denver is one small, visible way of making amends for that history,” Liz Stalnaker, the chair of Rename St*pleton for All, who is advocating for the name change.

“Rename St*pleton for All,” has gained some momentum as of late. So much, in fact, that Stapleton property owners actually put this question to a vote this summer: should they change the name of Stapleton?

No doubt, Ben Stapleton is a stain on Colorado’s history. The guy was not shy about his involvement with the Klan. In fact, many say that, that was exactly how he got elected in the first place: through Klan money, manpower and support. Once he was in office (in the 1920’s) he rewarded his Klansmen brethren by appointing them to various governmental positions, like Denver’s Chief of Police.

It was a dark time for the Mile-High City. KKK activity was at an all-time high, they staged rallies, demonstrations and parades in Denver with impunity, on the reg.

Which is why, in May of this year, students at the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST): Stapleton pushed to have the name changed to DSST: Montview. A local rec center also committed to changing their name, because of Mayor Stapleton’s ties to the Klan.

But, here’s the thing: who really hears the name Stapleton and thinks of the KKK or of that racist mayor from the 1920’s? Does the name of that neighborhood really invoke mental pictures of lynching, pointed hoods and white robes, burning crosses and civil repression?

Or, do you just think of Stapleton?

More to the point, changing the names of places that were named decades ago after a historical figure, just because the current zeitgeist doesn’t agree with that person’s moral bent, is absurd. It’s a slippery slope from there — where do you stop? George Washington was a slave owner. Are we going to change the name of Washington D.C., too? How about Washington state?

And, if we’re going to get heady about it, this kind of thing is not so far from historical censorship. It’s part of a larger, national movement to remove statues and memorials of racists, confederates and other racially controversial figures. People say the statues are offensive because they memorialize these people and their ignorant philosophies. I get that. I dislike racists, too.

But it’s also important not to whitewash our own history. You don’t have to be proud of it, for it to be a part of the past. If we start covering up, erasing, burying and otherwise editing the reality of our history we risk repeating it. We risk running ourselves straight into some kind of Orwellian future, where no one really knows what happened before because it’s all been rescripted to fit some kind of philosophical agenda?

That is another conversation entirely, though — a rabbit hole tangent for another time.  

This Stapleton issue is tied into that, but it isn’t necessarily the same thing. Because, when it came right down to it, the people of Stapleton said that the neighborhood is not named after the man, the Klan member, the Mayor, Benjamin Stapleton. The neighborhood is named after the airport that used to be there (which was, notably, named after Benjamin Stapleton). The airport was never a member of the Klan, their logic goes. It was a successful and popular hub of transportation until it was closed in 1995 and the town houses that exist there today were built over top of it.

The neighborhood was named after the airport, not the man, say The People. And so the name stays.

The vote, which happened earlier this summer, made their decision clear: 65 percent voted to keep the name, and only 35 percent voted to change it. Stapleton will remain Stapleton… for now.

Liz Stalnaker, with Rename St*pleton for All, was disappointed by the outcome of the vote, but “not particularly surprised” by that outcome.

“We have a lot to learn in understanding why folks voted the way that they did," she told CNN. Adding that the fight to change Stapleton’s name will go on.

This story is not over to Stalnaker. Even if it is to the rest of Stapleton.