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It's Past Time for St*pleton to Go

Sunday, June 14, 2020 Leave a Comment

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. David Bahr, Pastor of Park Hill Congregational UCC in Denver.

“I have little to say, except that I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming election heart and soul. And if I am re-elected, I shall give the Klan the kind of administration it wants.”

Those are the promises of former Denver mayor Benjamin St*pleton, a name familiar to most in Denver because he was given the honor of the name of the former airport. And then, after the airport, a massive area of land encompassing many neighborhoods, but known in total as St*pleton. That name must now go. It’s not as though people haven’t tried over and over and over again. But now, it is time for St*pleton to go.

Not only did he promise his “heart and soul” to the KKK, he filled his cabinet and police forces with members of the KKK. His election to mayor of Denver was celebrated by cross burnings on the top of South Table Mountain. The KKK burned crosses in celebration of Benjamin St*pleton. People claim that he later changed his tune. Regardless, despite any change of that heart or accomplishments, Jews, Chinese, Catholics, immigrants, and African Americans were all openly terrorized with impunity during his reign. None of them was asked when the airport was named in 1944 whether they thought his accomplishments outweighed the fiery terror that rained down upon them. Those actions were fresh. Those with the power to name then, didn’t care. But now, it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.

Many people who have moved to the St*pleton neighborhood in the past decade were unaware of this history. When the airport closed, attempts were made to change the name. Most recently, Black Lives Matter brought attention to this in 2015. After years of education and consciousness raising, last year property owners in St*pleton were given the opportunity to voice their opinion. But those with interests in keeping the name created an election in which 1) only property owners could vote. That means the many who live in apartments had no voice. 2) Only one person per household could vote. Two adults with two opinions could voice only one opinion. 3) Ballot irregularities were ignored throwing confusion into an already heated debate.

I went to the meeting of the Master Community Association at which the results of that vote were ratified. I could as easily have been sitting in on a meeting in Birmingham or Selma in the 1950s. The group was annoyed, calling neighbors initiating the name change of being “outsiders coming in.” They weren’t. The group was impatient to get this off their agenda. They called the ReName group’s concerns overhyped and accused advocates of bad behavior.

Dr. King wrote to clergymen from his jail cell in Birmingham that he had “hoped the white moderate would see this [injustice. But I should have expected] that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those who have been oppressed, and still few have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action.”

And so strong, persistent and determined action has been promised. In a very strongly worded tweet, Tay Anderson put down a marker. “The neighbors of Stapleton have ONE WEEK to change their name ... if they do NOT we will march through their neighborhood to show them that Black Lives Matter.”

My first reaction to the tone was “that’s not helpful.” That sounds like a threat. But if nice words get you nowhere, perhaps strong, persistent and determined action will get people’s attention.

We are watching as more statues of treasonous confederate soldiers on the losing side of a war to enslave humans are being torn down. And now it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.

Even the Pentagon agrees that the names of confederates after whom military bases, like Bragg and Benning, should be changed. It is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.

A man in Texas wrote to Dr. King to say “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry?” But as we know, Dr. King said, “wait almost always means never.” And so, it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.

But what about the history? You can’t erase history. I completely agree. My solution? Put a plaque on top of South Table Mountain with the history laid out clearly. On this spot, the KKK burned a cross in celebration of the election of Mayor St*pleton. We commit that such an atrocity shall never happen again.” Put a plague up in the offices of the Master Community Association. Put a plaque up in Founder’s Green. Put them everywhere so we don’t forget the history. But the name? It’s time to go.

To Christians I share a story of Jesus. The authorities asked Jesus, “What’s your hurry?” They pointed to a woman who had formerly been bent over for 18 years. They said, “Why couldn’t she wait? It’s against the law to heal today. Do it tomorrow. It’s just one more day.” True, it had been 18 years, but that means, according to their logic, there were 5,634 previous days on which should could have been healed. But no one cared about this woman until Jesus healed her on the wrong day. (Luke 13:10-17)

The tone of a tweet may be off putting, but clearly no action will be taken on the St*pleton name until someone says finally it’s enough: Now is the time to ReName St*pleton. It’s past time.