After two years in the making and several nation-gripping murders of unarmed black Americans, civil rights groups and religious leaders in Colorado have unveiled a memorial marker that aims to bring the state’s legacy in lynching to light.
More than 6,500 lynchings took place across the United States from 1865-1950. Seven of those occurred in Colorado. On Friday, the Colorado Lynching Memorial Project revealed its memorial marker for Preston “John” Porter Jr., a 15-year-old black teenager who was murdered by a mob after the daughter of a well-known rancher was killed.
In 1900, Porter was falsely accused of raping and killing 12-year-old Louise Frost, and press reports during that time said that Porter confessed to save his father and brother.
Porter had been in Denver at the time because his father needed to cash a check for work he did on the Union Pacific Railway. When he and his father denied any involvement in the murder, Denver City police arrested them both. Porter was reportedly tortured by being placed in a “sweatbox” and confessed to Frost’s murder after being told that his father and brother would otherwise be lynched.
The memorial marker was placed at the old Denver City Jail — now the Creekfront Park — where Porter was held and tortured before being put on a train to the Limon-area, where he was ultimately killed.
Rev. Tawana Davis, co-founder of Soul 2 Soul Sisters, said that the idea to erect a memorial marker for Porter came about after her group held a workshop with the Episcopal Church of Colorado on how to combat anti-black racism.
“The process was beautifully divine,” Davis said, adding that Gov. Jared Polis (D) was supportive of the effort and worked closely with local officials to establish the memorial marker.
Soul 2 Soul Sisters joined with the Denver Justice Project and Equal Justice Initiative in 2018 to raise awareness about Porter. Davis, a New York native, grew up learning about lynchings in the United States taking place most often in the South. She was surprised to learn about Colorado’s history with lynchings.
“It was very surprising to hear about this type of terror that was happening, even in the mountain state of Colorado,” Davis said.
Civil rights groups will gather on November 14 for a virtual ceremony at the memorial marker honoring Porter. Polis also declared November 16 as Perrston Porter Jr. Day to honor the 120th anniversary of his death.
Efforts are currently underway to erect another memorial marker at the site in Limon where Porter was lynched. Davis said that she hopes more people will learn about the lives of those that have been killed by lynchings and to “name those names.”
“This is now a template for us to acknowledge and honor others who have been lynched in Colorado,” Davis said. “You got to reach back to move forward.”