(Well well well – Promoted by Colorado Pols)
A decision by the History Colorado museum to remove references to former Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton in its Ku Klux Klan exhibit, even though he’s one of the most prominent Klansmen in Colorado history, has led Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Barlock to accuse fellow GOP candidate Walker Stapleton of directing his family’s foundation to donate to the museum to cover up the Stapletons’ white supremacist roots.
The display, which describes the history of the KKK’s political influence in Colorado, currently does not mention Denver’s former mayor, but he was referenced multiple times in History Colorado’s display on the Klan before the exhibit was replaced and altered in 2012, when the museum moved to a new building, according to archival photos provided by the museum to the Colorado Times Recorder.
Mayor Stapleton, who was Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s great-grandfather, was a high-ranking member of the KKK. He served as Denver Mayor from 1923 to 1931, during which time the white supremacist group exercised political influence throughout the state, and in Denver in particular, by electing a handful of members and allies into government offices.
The new display, which sits within the “Colorado Stories” exhibit, references the Klan’s “17,000 members in Denver alone,” and how they “voted allies into the governor’s mansion and throughout the state legislature,” but fails to mention the mayor.
In contrast, the old display, which featured many of the same artifacts, had text panels that made multiple mentions of the mayor’s office.
As the old version of the display explains, “Parades, rallies, auto races, charitable events, patronage of Klansman-owned businesses, and support from a sympathetic mayor pushed membership in Denver’s robed legions to more than 17,000.”
It goes on to mention Stapleton’s relationship to Colorado’s Grand Dragon John Galen Locke, stating, “Backed by a disciplined army of hooded voters, Locke corralled Colorado’s governor and Denver’s mayor, chief of police, and public safety manager.”
Barlock doesn’t believe the current absence of references to Mayor Stapleton in the museum’s KKK exhibit to be an accident, but rather a revisionist version of history preferred by Walker Stapleton, whose family’s foundation has donated more than $50,000 to the museum since 2012, when the new museum opened and the changes to the display were made.
Public tax records from the Stapleton family’s foundation, called the Harmes C. Fishback Foundation Trust, show that yearly donations quadrupled once History Colorado moved to the new museum building and the new KKK display was put in place.
“Admit that they’re your family, admit their wrongs, but admit it to the public and don’t try hiding it and definitely don’t try donating your way out of it if you’re so rich,” said Barlock. “I mean, that’s just what they do. When you have that much power and money, you can obviously try to erase history.”
History Colorado said in an email to the Colorado Times Recorder that Mayor Stapleton’s absence from the exhibit was unintentional.
“The decision was made by exhibit developers and editors to maintain a wider narrative to focus on Colorado, rather than limit to Denver. In addition, our text panels are often limited to under 100 words,” said Communications Manager Brooke Gladstone. “There was no intentional decision to eradicate or avoid mention of Mayor Stapleton, rather to focus on the wider lens of the Klan in Colorado.”
The past version of the text panel obtained by the Colorado Times Recorder is indeed lengthier and more detailed than the one that exists at the museum today.
But the current text panel actually does focus on Denver, mentioning the proliferation of the Klan in Denver and the group’s political allies in the very same sentence, reading, “With more than 17,000 members in Denver alone, the Klan voted allies into the governor’s mansion and throughout the state legislature in 1922.”
Neither the Stapleton campaign nor his family’s foundation responded to multiple requests for comment. Stapleton is widely considered the frontrunner in the GOP gubernatorial primary.
This is a condensed version of this story. The full story was originally published on the Colorado Times Recorder.