Denver, CO

Colorado’s first Black person has name affixed to Denver Park

David Heitz
Denver City Council member Stacie Gilmore cuts the ribbon on William Whitsell Park.Photo byStacie Gilmore

Denver opened a new park Saturday named after the first Black person born in Colorado, William H. Whitsell.

The park at 40th and Kirk in Denver hosted a ribbon cutting, guest speakers and a commemorative unveiling. It is in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood of District 11, City Council member Stacie Gilmore’s district.

"William H. Whitsell was a remarkable man," Gilmore posted on her Facebook page. "A son of two likely freed slaves who moved west to live where Union Station stands today, he was the first Black Coloradan, a mason and a community leader. Now, a park in Green Valley Ranch bears his name, forever enshrining his legacy. Thanks to everyone who joined his family and me this Saturday in dedicating Denver’s newest park in his name. I’m proud of our community for elevating stories of triumph through adversity from people like William."

Jessie and Julian Carey and the descendants of Whitsell spearheaded the effort to name the park. They submitted more than 500 signatures in support of the name to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The board held a public hearing Jan. 11 on the name change and unanimously approved it.

“Mr. William Whitsell grew up in Denver, attending Denver’s public schools,” according to a memo from Allegra “Happy” Haynes to the council. “He later became a brick molder and mason for the A.J. Baker Company. In this role he helped in the construction of many buildings in downtown Denver. An active community member, Mr. Whitsell was a member of the Campbell’s African Methodist Episcopal, the Masonic Lodge, The Fraternal Order of Elks, and the Odd Fellows.”

According to the bill that names the park, “members of the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood advocate for this naming to celebrate the history, impact, and contributions of William H. Whitsell’s, his descendants, and African Americans in Denver and the state of Colorado.”

According to the memo from Haynes, Whitsell was born in Central City, Gilpin County, Colo.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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