Colorado Honors and Pays Tribute to the First African American Male Born there

On Saturday, the first African-American male born in Colorado received posthumous induction into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame.

Few photographs of William Whitsell survive today, but his legacy lives on throughout the Centennial State.

“It lets me understand and just know that I’m standing on the shoulders of a great, great man,” says Damon Jones, Whitsell’s great-great grandson.

According to the Denver Public Library, Whitsell was Colorado’s first African-American male born.

“It probably didn’t even hit him like that … even to know that he was the first Black male born in Colorado,” Jones went on to say.

Whitsell was born in what is now Central City, Colorado when it was still a United States territory.

Jones claims his parents flew to Colorado for the opportunity.

“For them to move to Colorado, and to take refuge up into the mountains up into Gilpin County, where a lot of the work was at that time, it was a lot of mining and a lot of building,” Jones said. “It’s very impactful when you sit and think about it, and sit and think what he had to possibly go through— what they went through to even get here.”

William Whitsell, the first African American male born in Colorado, was recognized during the ceremony.

According to historians, Whitsell’s parents were most likely former slaves who were liberated and moved to the West to assist build the railroad. The family subsequently moved to Denver and lived where Union Station is today.

Whitsell was posthumously inducted into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame, which was held at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library.

According to Cedric Buchanon of the Library Commission, there were numerous reasons why the commission chose Whitsell for induction into the 2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame.

“It’s the adventure of being that first individual born in Colorado— but then being here, growing up here, settling his roots, the family that has gone from generation to generation,” Buchanon went on to say.

Whitsell worked as a brick mason and molder in his adult life.

“Some of the oldest buildings that we would know as like the clock tower and different things,” Jones went on to say. “He was very instrumental in that as far as helping to actually construct some buildings.”

Jones claims Whitsell was a member of an Elks Lodge.

Whitsell was also recognized for his contributions to his church and community. He died at the age of 77.

Jones claims Whitsell had a lasting impact not only on his family but on the entire state of Colorado.

“We just carry his name,” Jones explained. “We hold his legacy close to heart. We enjoy sharing it with anyone who is interested. He was simply a fantastic dude.”

The 2024 Juanita Gray nominees include:

  • Sandra Douglas
  • Joshalynn Green-Tuner, Granville. Lee Jawana Norris
  • Dr. Ron D. Reeves
  • Stephanie Tavares-Rance Chandra Thomas Whitfield
  • Anita West-Berry

2024 Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame inductees

  • Adrian Miller
  • retired Division Chief Charles Thomas Smith
  • William H. Whitsell (Posthumous Award)

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