05 July 2007

Washington Park Race Riot

The West Washington Park Neighborhood Association's newsletter this time around bravely mentioned the summer of 1932 race riot in Washington Park. There will eventually be a link at the Association's site here. It was a matter of public record and published history, but not widely known (also little known is the fact that the neighborhood was briefly separately incorporated and did so largely to use zoning laws to shut down saloons on South Broadway). But, neighborhod associations often want to only focus on the bright side of the past.

The newsletter story (based on a book length history of Denver) notes that Japanese Americans were banned from the beach at Smith Lake in 1913, and that African Americans just weren't welcome.

Whites (allegedly communists, and judging by their names, some Hispanic) and blacks from North Denver staged a swim in during the summer of 1932. White beach users violently attacked them, and a park director by the name of Lowry was active in asking them to leave. I suspect that this is the same Lowry after whom the Denver neighborhood is named. This resulted in 17 arrests (7 whites, 10 blacks) with no sign of violence on the part of the protesters.

They were about 25 years too early to catch the wave of the Civil Rights movement, but deserve our gratitude none the less. Today, particularly on holidays like the 4th of July, Washington Park reflects Denver's diversity, although the beach is gone, replaced later by an indoor swimming pool.


Dave Burrell said...

I wrote that article, and have been trying to get some folks to help commemorate the event for months now. So far I’ve contacted the NAACP, Beckwourth Society, Black American History museum, Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, Five Points Historic Association, Historic Denver, Stiles African American Heritage Center, Center for the New West, Denver Defines Integration, and even the Cleo Parker Robinson dance ensemble. So far, none have responded. The only positive responses have been from media organizations such as the Urban Spectrum and Colorado Public Radio.

That's unfortunate, because as you note above, history does not always reveal happier circumstances. We need to learn more about this event from the still-living children of the protestors or participants in the riot. I have done some research to uncover identities, but much more work and help is required.

I will also note that I was skeptical of the claim that Communists helped lead the riot, but that's in fact what happened. The riot leader, Jay Anyon, ran for Congress under the Communist banner in 1942, and his daughter now studies radical politics at City College of New York. More evidence of the linkage is supplied in this month's Journal of American History article entitled "Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism." It investigates Communist overtures of the African American community from from 1920-1950, and asks whether their campaigns for racial and social change might have created a powerful coalition.

The historical answer is ultimately to the contrary, but in Washington Park in August 1972, at least, the Communists were on the right side of history... and our neighbors were in the wrong.

If you have information or questions about the event itself, I'd welcome comment at history@wwpna.org.

Anonymous said...

The Lowry neighborhood is, of course, named after Lowry Air Force Base which once occupied the land.

Lowry Air Force Base was named after World War I flying ace Second Lieutenant Francis Lowry, who was killed in action in 1918 when his plane was shot down.

So the Lowry Neighborhood's namesake was obviously not present at the race riots in Washington Park in 1932.

Stan Current said...

Thank you Mr. Burrell and all who remember our history and keep it straight. As you know, it repeats itself when we forget/distort the facts. Preserving history is imperative.

I tried to get a plaque a year and a half ago for 80th anniversary but mayor, parks and rec don't have $300 to emboss/install above bench in front of Dos Chappell bathhouse.

I wrote former Mayor Webb but didn't hear back.

I paid my respects on north shore today, what would have been 81st anniversary. I was fortunate to meet with a young African American couple and their baby having a picnic in front of bathhouse. They had no idea what happened there.

How many African Americans or other minorities can be seen in park on given day? Big John and Arnie at rec center and that's about it. Seems the segregationists have won out.

Racism still exists. We need to address it in ourselves and others. Lao Tzu said it best over 2500 years ago: "If you see something you like in someone, strive for that quality. If you see something you dislike, look within." Who does that or knows how to?

Jesus and others gurus, shamans have said same/similar since, like Greek Gnostics, "Have knowledge(gnosis) of evil", what can come out of us and make us evil. Simply realizing thoughts, feelings, emotions, words, actions, bodily sensations and what might be causing it. Watching dreams especially, for who might be "driving" us in our car somewhere.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung showed empirically how our psyche projects our iniquity et al onto others, as seen from our dreams. The beast within can manifest as it is more than ever in some form of power and control over others, which Jesus and others faced in themselves and were able to refuse, possibly out of regard for others.

Racism is all about having power and control over others as Oprah said at Harvard commencement in May.

Sin itself is all about us and what we want without regard for others. "Skin for skin," said Satan to God in wanting to test Job. What we'll do to save our own skin.

We just need to face our daemons or make friends with ourselves so we can at least respect each other for our differences in appearance, beliefs etc et al. Simply know our daemons as some ancient Greeks did.

We are all one family under same God, Goddess with 1,000 faces and names, whether we care to know it or not.

The Dieties are too great for any one religion.

We gotta get it right or pay the price if we don't do right by one another.

Jesus et al were right about that, too.

Stan Current
Denver CO
since 1975

ps Interesting how Christian religions haven't been able to face the devil as their founder did and so help the faithful. They have been complicit in the taking of this land from native people, their religion and way of life while enslaving a whole race of people based on loose interpretations of Holy Scripture. The corporate takeover of our country is also Christian driven. Just as Jesus was murdered so have the Christian religions, even each other, especially their own, in God's Holy Name, same as the insane, without simply questioning themselves. In living by the sword they nearly perished from it. The sexual assault of children and cover up for centuries is the worst. Especially considering what their founder said about not harming children or covering things up. It's brought them to financial ruin for which survivors are despised. They simply will never face the devil as their founder did. It all ties in.

Pastor Reagan Humber said...

Are you still wanting to organize a commemoration of the riot? I wonder if there is more appetite now. Perhaps after the pandemic. I'm the pastor of a church that just moved into the neighborhood. We are doing research about race in the area and I came across this post.

andrew said...

I have no intention of organizing a commemoration of the riot at this time. It would be a worthy undertaking when the pandemic is over. Which church are you affiliated with?