What’s in a name? Trust me, as someone with a surname that has a downside, it’s a double-edged sword. Since childhood, I have heard bad jokes about my name (although nothing original in decades). When I was single, friends joked that I should marry a man with the surname of Butt and hyphenate my last name. Hyphenation of my name with any other is pretty much out of the question. The upside of my name is that it IS memorable. And luckily, my family always encouraged a healthy sense of humor and a lot of education.
I am proud to point out that the Dumm family tree includes my grandfather and father who were successful medical doctors and a brother who is a lawyer. I am less proud of the fact that a distant cousin who shares my last name was arrested for one of the largest one-man burglary sprees in the metro area. And I’ll never be eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution unless they open their doors to descendants of the Hessian mercenaries who were the first Dumm’s in the United States. There is no getting around family. You have to accept the good with the bad.
Which is why I was amused by Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton’s campaign claims about his fourth generation Colorado status, although he was born in Connecticut and didn’t move to the Centennial State until he was 29. Stapleton, of course, is a well-known name around the state. The Stapleton name today graces a planned community that sprouted on the land that used to be Denver’s Stapleton International Airport. That airport was named after Ben Stapleton, a long-time mayor of Denver. That name is not touted on Walker Stapleton’s website, perhaps because Ben was a Democrat (gasp) and a member of the Ku Klux Klan (double gasp).
During some very dark days in Colorado politics, hooded Klansmen had an intimidating Friday night tradition of marching up Colfax Avenue and into the foothills. In the early 1920’s, the KKK boasted control of the governor’s office, the legislature and – yes – Mayor Ben Stapleton. Klansmen celebrated Stapleton’s 1923 election by burning crosses on South Table Mountain. And Mayor Stapleton very publicly asked a crowd of hooded Klansman for their support during a recall election. To see some disturbing images of the Klan’s heyday in Colorado, click here.
Stapleton rewarded his KKK brotherhood with many appointments. Stapleton’s Police Chief Bill Candlish would enforce a forgotten Denver ordinance that prohibited “…Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and black businessmen from employing white women.”
Mayor Stapleton was kicked out of the KKK at one point when he and U.S. Sen. Rice W. Means tried to wrest control of the organization from disgraced Grand Dragon John Galen Locke in 1925. (Time Magazine, July 28, 1925)
Of course, Stapleton had his good moments too. While he was in office, Denver built its first modern water supply system and several other large public projects. Denver got clean water from a pact with racists who hid behind hoods.
I’ve learned to accept my Dumm-ness and the ebb tide in the family DNA pool. I heartily recommend to Walker Stapleton that he embrace the family dysfunction, along with a sense of humor.
As Rodney Dangerfield said, “I looked up my family tree and found three dogs using it.”