Barney Ford’s Black Activism 1822 -1902
Background • Born a slave in Virginia • No last name given to slaves • Escaped slavery to Chicago via the Underground Railroad when he was 17 • Taught himself to read and write • Helped other slaves to escape • Married Julia Lyon in Chicago • She helped him pick his last name • Idea for his name taken from the steam engine – Lancelot Ford
The journey In 1851, Ford and his wife decided to move to California to find gold. They traveled by ship. The ship stopped in a town in Nicaragua, located in South America, for a few days to pick up supplies and passengers. Barney and Julia got off the ship and liked the town so much they decided to stay. The couple opened a successful hotel and restaurant.
Bigger Dreams He believed he could achieve his dreams in the American West. So, the couple moved to Colorado to mine for gold. However, African Americans faced discrimination in the West. Ford was not allowed to own a mine claim at that time because he was African American.
Pushing forward Ford was determined to succeed in the West anyway and moved to Denver where he opened a successful barbershop. People were impressed by Ford’s intelligence and determination. Unfortunately, Ford’s barbershop burnt down in a fire.
Not even a fire could stop ford Many of his barber shop patrons had been Denver’s leading citizens. This allowed Ford to become friends with many business men in the area. Following the fire, these connections allowed him to borrow $5,000 from a German banker named Luther Kountze. Ford used this funding to start over with another new plan…
The people’s restaurant …a fine establishment that attracted clientele from among the town’s most respected citizens
As the Civil War wound down, his thoughts turned to the plight of the black man in Colorado. • Blacks in the United States still could not vote. • More blacks were moving westward to start a new life, but were treated like second-class citizens. • Ford Decided to do something about the situation, so he set out for Washington, D.C. at his own expense and lobbied Congress to defeat the 1864 statehood bill. • The bill would have allowed Colorado to enter the Union as a free state, but no rights would have been extended to blacks. • The bill was defeated and Ford returned to Colorado
Ford returned to Denver and helped establish adult education classes for blacks and to organize the Colored Republican Club. • Despite his efforts, no significant rights were given to Colorado’s black population.
1867 Ford opened a second restaurant in Cheyenne. He managed both with great success until fire destroyed the second restaurant. Despite this, his wealth was rumored to be more than $250,000, making him Colorado’s wealthiest black man.
Continued success He then built the Ford House Hotel and the Inter-Ocean Hotel in Denver. As well as a very nice home in downtown Denver.
More Set Backs… • 1873 – He was the first black man to run for public office, but lost the election. • 1879 – 57 year old Ford had just about lost his entire fortune… • Another hotel in Cheyenne had failed • The cattle trade that supported his operations was drying up • The economy was generally in a bad state of affairs • He tried is luck gold mining in California, but failed • He returned to Breckenridge, penniless.
Rebuilding his fortune… He opened a restaurant for miners in Breckenridge and slowly began to rebuild his fortune. He then opened the Oyster Ocean Restaurant in Denver where he earned enough money to build a summer home in the mountains
Continued Fight for equal rights 1885 – Ford was instrumental in getting a civil-rights law passed in Colorado that forbade the denial of equal rights to blacks in hotels, restaurants, and public places. 1887 – Ford sold his small share in a Breckenridge gold mine for a small fortune. He then opened another barber shop near the Brown Palace Hotel and continued to work.
Ford died in 1902, leaving the legacy that helped shape Colorado leading into the new century.