Health and Fitness

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum highlights Black entrepreneurs


COLORADO SPRINGS — With only a few more days until Black History Month begins, one museum in Colorado Springs is sharing stories of Black entrepreneurs who helped pave the way for others in the community.

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum highlights Black entrepreneurs. Credit: Rachel Saurer

Colorado Springs isn’t a city you would normally attribute as being rich with Black history. But Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum‘s curator of History Leah Witherow begs to differ. An expert in all things Colorado Springs history, Witherow told FOX21 News her favorite stories of enterprising African Americans.

One of these was Charles Collins — a riding master in the 1880s.

“He was such a refined gentleman that when he went out in public, he wore tails, a top hat, a vest and tie,” Witherow said.

A painting of Charles Collins from the 1880s. Credit: Rachel Saurer

Collins moved to Colorado Springs when he was in his twenties and initially was a waiter at the Antlers Hotel.

“He wanted to be an entrepreneur. So, one day, he put an ad in the Gazette, advertising his riding school. He became beloved, and really well-known and tremendously successful,” Witherow said.

Witherow said she loves sharing the lives of people we don’t often get to hear about. People like “Mama” Susie Perkins, who “flipped” houses and rented them to families who often got discriminated against in the 1960s.

A painting of “Mama” Susie Perkins was a real estate entrepreneur in the 50s and 60s. Credit: Rachel Saurer

“She owned over a hundred properties and probably provided homes to thousands of local residents. Her story is a really important one. And one that everyone in Colorado Springs should know,” Witherow said.

But, Witherow said her favorite story centers around a simple graduation gown…and a single mother, Joyce Gilmer, who wanted to give her kids all the advantages of a good life in the Springs.

“To do that as a single mother, she needed a lot of flexibility. So she thought, what kind of job offered her flexibility? Real Estate. So she became the first black, female real estate agent in Colorado Springs history,” Witherow said.

The actual graduation gown donated by Joyce Gilmer. Credit: Rachel Saurer

Why the graduation gown? Witherow said Gilmer had another goal–to graduate college. However, her school gave her a gown that was too small. After being unable to find the correct fabric around town, she went home to take a nap.

“She laid down on her bed, closed her eyes for a moment, opened her eyes and looked at her draperies, and they were the exact color and fabric as the UCCS graduation gown,” Witherow said.

Not just because this is an incredible coincidence, but Witherow said she loves this story the most, because she said the gown represents all the hard work it took for her to succeed. She said that it also echoes the sentiments of the many Black entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs.

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum has many more stories to tell in honor of Black History Month, and they have events going on all February long. For more information, click here.

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