As kids, we all liked to play pretend. Cops and robbers, superheroes and villains, cowboys and Indians, etc. Sure, there were little arguments within the neighborhood about who got to play what roles. But for one man in particular, this casting call meant much more than that. When he was young, Paul Stewart never got to play the role of the cowboy, as the neighborhood kids told him “There is no such thing as a Black cowboy.” Not only were those kids never taught acceptance and manners, but they were also never taught correct history. The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver will teach you that yes, there were Black cowboys, and about the contributions of African American people to the old west we all think we know so well.
Paul Stewart made it his mission to not only educate but also connect people to the history of African American heroes that played an immense role in the settlement of the Western United States. When children, and even adults, think of the “old west”, an image of cowboys with towering hats and sharp spurs walking into a saloon as a tumbleweed rolls behind them usually comes to mind. This is the version of the story we’ve seen in movies, television, books, and even museums, for a long time. But just as there were Black cowboys, there were also Black miners, blacksmiths, school teachers, soldiers, and many other roles that were essential to the settlement in the West.
The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center was founded in 1971 by Paul Stewart, as a part of his many efforts to provide history to the community. Over the years, he has collected documents and evidence to help show people the essential presence of Black people in one of America’s most transformative times. The museum’s physical location even holds a great amount of historic value, as it is located in the former home of Colorado’s first licensed, African-American female doctor; Dr. Justina L. Ford.
Denver is very fortunate to be able to call themselves the home of the BAWM, and I highly encourage you to see this museum full of history and stories most of us were never taught in school. Currently, the museum is closed for renovations, and is projected to reopen to the public in the winter of 2022. Give their Facebook page a follow to stay up to date on when you can plan your visit to this historical home filled with new knowledge and respect for essential contributions made to our country’s history.
While the museum is currently closed, you are still welcome to make donations on the BAMW website, and contribute to keeping a very important, local, educational building afloat during these tough times.