While working out at a gym in Golden recently, someone approached Ty Scrable and asked if he was associated with Colorado School of Mines. Scrable had to explain that, no, he’s just a Golden resident.
Unfortunately, Scrable said, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
“I get that a lot,” he said. “People think I’m a student, professor or tourist because I’m Black.”
Systemic racism stubbornly remains in Golden. But, as Scrable said, it has morphed from Ku Klux Klan demonstrations in the 1920s and racist housing policies in the 1940s to something less overt but still widespread and endlessly frustrating.
Because White people make up the overwhelming majority in the city and, thus, are seen as the norm, Scrable said, “many people don’t view me as part of my own community.”
The newspaper, which now is part of Colorado Community Media, isn’t immune to biased coverage. This report is the product of its journalists attempting to examine the paper’s coverage of the Black community since the Civil Rights era and own up to its mistakes.
Just one example is its coverage of the Black Panther Party, a group that gained national attention in the late 1960s for its response to policing in Black communities across the country.
Between 1969-1971, the newspaper published approximately 170 articles that referenced the Black Panther Party. Nearly all of these articles presented the group in a negative light, with words such as “fugitive,” “thugs” and “militants.”
And, the Transcript appeared to rarely cover the Black community in the city and wider region. Because of this, their voices are missing in archives, now online as an important chronicling of Colorado’s history.
By not including these voices in an accurate light, and by publishing stories that reinforced harmful stereotypes and/or recorded Black people’s traumatic experiences in an apathetic or flippant way, the Golden Transcript’s coverage contributed to systemic racism, according to researchers and Black community leaders.
“There is harm when it comes to media and the Black community in Denver and Colorado,” Lewis said. “If we want to repair the harms, we have to acknowledge that (they are) factual.”
Alfonzo Porter, editor-in-chief at Denver Urban Spectrum
and a journalism professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said mass media has been at the epicenter of “propagating negative images and reflections of the African-American community.”
“It really stems out of our country’s background, and we’re still dealing with those biases,” he said.
While almost all of the Transcript’s stories about the Black Panther Party were from wire services like United Press International
, Porter said the Transcript and other newspapers are accountable for reprinting those stories.
“It’s exactly like original reporting, because … the editorial staff sat in a room, looked at this piece, determined that it was appropriate and ran with it in the paper,” he said.
THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense started in 1966 in Oakland, California. Founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale started the organization as a response to police brutality there and in other Black communities, according to Lewis’ research.
The party had a 10-point program that included demands for Black liberation and societal improvement. Eventually, the Black Panthers led more than 35 community programs across the country, like the Free Breakfast for School Children Program
— also known as The Free People’s Food Program
, which helped feed Black children from economically disadvantaged families.
In Denver, a chapter gained recognition in 1967. Led by Lauren Watson
, the chapter’s history was largely erased or ignored, Lewis said, adding that the Denver Panthers were instrumental in the fight for civil rights in Colorado.
It’s important to note that many Black community members both then and now have mixed feelings about the Panthers and their work, Lewis stressed.
Longtime Denver residents she interviewed formed their opinions largely based on what they read about the Black Panthers in newspapers and saw on TV. Yet that coverage contrasts with what many in the community saw the Denver Black Panthers doing. They were involved in school board and City Council meetings, provided free meals for children, and worked to improve the welfare of their neighborhoods and its residents.
“Many Black people believed what the media said about the Panthers,” said Terry Nelson, a lifelong member of the Denver community. “ … It depended on the source. We recognized that the newspapers weren’t telling the truth about the members. … We knew that the Denver members were active in schools, speaking with teachers and parents. We never saw that in the major newspapers.”
Tracie Keesee, a former Denver police captain and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity, described how during this tumultuous period, the press played into the hands of government officials. Newsrooms considered police as trustworthy and well-respected sources, so it was easy for them to hand reporters a story and have it taken at face value, Keesee said.
Keesee added: “We see it now, right? That divisiveness in the media, the stories that are being told — or not being told.”
How national, Denver-area papers covered the party
Sisters Ida Daniel, Pat Rogers and JoEllen Greenwood grew up in Denver and graduated from East High School in the ’60s and early ’70s. They recalled reading The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News and watching the nightly news on TV. They also listened to the city’s Black radio station, KDKO, and read Black-oriented magazines like Ebony and Jet.
Overall, the three didn’t recall a lot of news stories about Black people in the mainstream press, unless it was negative. The news covered Black people who were arrested for murder, robbery, rioting and other crimes. Rogers summarized the coverage as: “Be afraid of Black people.”
Coverage about the Denver Panthers in Black newspapers in the area at the time was scant. Of those Lewis researched, the Black-owned publication The Denver Blade
published the most articles on the group’s activities, both locally and nationally, in 1969.
Its coverage appears to be fairly balanced, Lewis said.
One Blade article discussed the Panthers’ organizing a meeting to discuss policing and police presence at Cole Jr. High School in Denver’s diverse Whittier neighborhood. It chronicled the Black community’s efforts to address a racial gap between teachers and Black students. One possible solution, and likely at the suggestion of the Denver Black Panthers, was to establish Cole as a Freedom School, a concept that focused on Black pride and Black liberation in academics.
In contrast, the Denver Post also covered the meeting but didn’t mention the Panthers’ involvement in organizing the event or the Freedom School proposal. In a review of Post archives, the story focused on arrests. The Denver Blade coverage did not mention any Black Panther arrests.
“Oftentimes, it was up to Black news media to cover this group in a more comprehensive way, which I believe The Denver Blade did,” Lewis said. “It covered all aspects of the local and national Panthers, and offered readers a more balanced view of the members of this group.”
The Denver Blade stopped operating in 1970.
How Golden’s newspapers covered the Panthers
The Transcript published approximately 170 articles that used the terms “Black Panther” or “Black Panthers” between 1969-1971. Almost all of these were reprinted stories from wire services, which seldom described anything positive about the party or its members.
The only article referencing the party’s free breakfast program was published April 30, 1970, about Baltimore police rounding up Black Panthers suspected of killing a patrolman. After searching party headquarters, police searched a school where it conducted its breakfast program, among other locations.
Ultimately, while coverage of the Black Panthers varied by publication, the Golden Transcript failed to cover the party’s community initiatives or involvement. It did, however, print dozens of wire stories about the party’s supposed criminal activity and police raids associated with the group.
The coverage used negative language to describe the Panthers, their neighborhoods and any activities they were involved in. Because of this, Golden-area residents absorbed and believed what they heard and saw in the news coverage, Lewis stated.
The role of the press in forwarding racial inequality really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, Keesee said, especially to communities of color.
“It’s not just that person that wrote the story, that person had an editor, right? There wasn’t anything in that editor’s mind that said, ‘Yeah…this seems a little biased. Did you even go into the community, or did you just take that off the wire and repeat it?’”
There’s no excuse for sloppy journalism, as it is harmful and contributes directly to a larger narrative, Keesee said.
“When you talk about media coverage, there were only three channels on the television, back then; there was no social media,” she said. "The newspapers were cranking out those stories overnight and you were waiting for your morning paper. Nobody was up waiting for breaking news. So, the news that was coming out, it was more focused and easier to control.”
And when news was breaking, “it was breaking only one way, and those narratives were pretty narrow,” she added.
During this timeframe, the Transcript was a daily paper with a small staff of six and a wire service that provided regional and national news.
Neil Paulson, who was managing editor from 1970-75, said the paper relied on United Press International reports to cover many issues, including the Black Panthers.
“It was a terrible service, especially for a small paper,” he said. “It cost us a little more, but eventually we went to The Associated Press.”
The only dictate from the paper’s owners, The Kansas City Star and the Great (Kansas) Tribune, was to run a local story on the front page, Paulson said. National and regional stories ran inside.
Paulson noted that Golden’s population at the time, as it is today, was predominantly White.
He knew two Black Goldenites during his years as editor. One was Monroe Jordan, an assistant chef at downtown Golden’s historic Holland House, who later worked at the nearby Ace-Hi Tavern.
Readers didn’t react positively to the front-page piece.
“I got a couple of nasty phone calls, but no one admitted to their bias,” Paulson said. “They refused to apologize, of course. They said I shouldn’t have put that on the front page. In typical Golden fashion, there was nothing specific, other than to say, ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’ The thought of another race didn’t exist.”
For the Transcript’s newsroom, Paulson said there was no “codified policy on racism” during his time there.
“We condemned it, but we made little effort to actively attack it,” he said. “(The) Black Panthers seem remote from Golden, where there were few Black families.”
One place where Paulson thought racism showed up was on the editorial page. The paper had four syndicated columnists every day who lived outside the community. They were selected by the publisher because “they were cheap and not already being published by the two Denver dailies,” he stated.
Paulson said he had no doubt the paper could be accused of racism for its coverage in those days.
“But I’d like to think it was by omission rather than intent,” he said. “We rarely spoke of racism and did little to come out against its pernicious effects. I don’t remember anyone on the staff making racist remarks, and I think I would have remembered that.”
Golden in the 1960s and ’70s
Built on lands traditionally inhabited by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Ute and other tribes, Golden City was founded in 1859. According to Allan Tellis, a doctoral student of political science at the University of Colorado-Boulder and freelance researcher on this report, Golden has never had a significant Black population.
Census data from 1960 shows that the Golden division of Jefferson County had 28 Black residents. By 1970, that number had increased to 86. Overall, those numbers represent 0.15% and 0.27% of the total population, respectively, according to Tellis.
As of 2020, Golden had 388 Black residents, representing 1.9% of the city’s population.
Longtime Golden residents recalled how many of the city’s Black residents in the late 1960s and early ’70s were associated with Colorado School of Mines as students, professors or their family members. As far as discussions about the Black Panther Party specifically or race relations in general, longtime White residents said the topic didn’t come up much because there wasn’t a large Black population in the area.
Rick Gardner, a resident who has studied Golden’s history extensively, said the community had “other preoccupations at the time,” such as labor clashes at the Coors brewery and the Vietnam War.
But that was Chicago.
Golden was different, but not necessarily better.
The KKK in Golden
The Klan began in Denver in 1921 and eventually “all but took possession of the state of Colorado,” according to a report in the Steamboat Pilot. Klan members throughout Denver gathered on Golden’s South Table Mountain for cross-burnings and other rituals. According to Golden History, the mountain could attract up to 10,000 members.
Overall, the Klan helped prevent or deter unknown numbers of Black people from carving out lives in the area. History Colorado recently released ledgers of KKK membership that show seven members of the terrorist organization resided in the Golden area, Tellis added.
Racist housing policies, practices
While the Klan’s activities are certainly one reason Golden has a small Black population, it’s not the only reason. Discriminatory housing practices also contributed.
Don Cameron, a former Jefferson County teacher and current Golden city councilor, has researched zoning history and discriminatory housing policies and practices, including some accounts recorded in the Transcript.
“Starting in the ’20s and into the ’40s, it was common for people to say that they would only sell their individual property to those of the Caucasian race, or non-Negro race individuals,” Cameron stated in a self-published
article about Golden’s zoning history.
“The courts backed up this right because they were protecting the homeowners’ use of their land and had no civic duty to prevent this discrimination,” the article continues. “Blacks were excluded from being shown properties in these restrictive neighborhoods, and if they tried to purchase them, (they) might have it taken away soon after.”
Perhaps the most evident example of this was in 1942, when Logus Butler and Susie A. Allison paid $1,500 for 30 acres near present-day Boyd Street in north Golden. They planned to build on it, but they were forced to sell a few months later after Golden residents drove them out.
“A large number of citizens appeared before the City Council Wednesday evening,” the Transcript reported Oct. 22, 1942, “and stated that a group of colored people had taken possession of the land recently purchased by them east of the Clark’s Garden addition, within the city limits of Golden, and were apparently staking out some building sites.”
After Butler and Allison were forced to sell the land, plots on the same land were listed for sale two years later. Ownership was restricted to “members of the Caucasian race.”
These accounts are just glimpses of Golden’s treatment of people of color, but Tellis emphasized how they demonstrate “institutionalized anti-Black behaviors and norms” in the area. So, he said, it’s no surprise that the Black Panther Party, an organization that “unapologetically called for Black liberation and the dismantling of White supremacist power structures, would catch the ire of local reporting.”
Tellis added: “Golden has displayed a deep commitment to the marginalization of Black people. To reflect on this legacy is pivotal if we desire to not replicate the racial strife and injustice of our past.”
In the community
While growing up in Denver in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Daniel and her sisters used their education and life experiences to help them decipher which news stories were biased and which were reputable. They also relied on family and friends’ advice.
“I don’t think news at the time covered Blacks in the world that they lived in,” Daniel said. “To me, the general stories about how Blacks lived, what they did, what their concerns were and some of their needs, were not covered.”
The sisters felt this trend in coverage didn’t change until the ’80s, when news about Black people and Black communities became more prominent.
As an example, Daniel described how The Denver Post did a feature article on her late husband, Wiley Y. Daniel, who was a prominent attorney and the state’s first Black U.S. district court judge. She also recalled how The Post’s society section ran pictures of positive stories happening in the Black community.
“I do think it began to change in the ’80s,” Daniel continued. “There were positive stories (but) … the stereotypes were still going on.”
Diversity in the newsroom also seemed to improve during this timeframe, the sisters said. They recalled Reynelda Muse, the first Black person to anchor a newscast in Colorado, and Bertha Lynn, who started in Denver television in 1976.
While a lot has changed in how traditional outlets cover Black people and Black communities, the sisters believe there’s still plenty of bias. Rogers admitted that she avoids local news because there are still more negative stories about Black people than positive ones.
“I think there absolutely still is biased coverage,” she said. “I don’t want, every day, to hear about, ‘there’s another Black person who got in trouble.’”
In the country
Going back through American history, the Urban Spectrum’s Porter described other incidents where media outlets didn’t give Black people the benefit of the doubt. He listed the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
and the Emmett Till lynching
as examples of the media portraying those involved as “guilty until proven innocent,” adding how the trend has persisted into today’s coverage of police shootings and similar incidents.
“And it seems as though that mentality continues to manifest in those organizations in their treatment of our community,” he said. “And so, it’s always the bad news. There’s really never any positive reflections.”
Regarding news coverage of the Black Panther Party, the journalism professor described it as a peaceful organization that was responding to violence “against African-American people in an attempt to say, ‘We will protect our community.’”
“The idea was that Black folks with guns clearly scared the hell out of people,” Porter continued. “Because obviously, if you’ve got a gun, then you’re going to be violent. And it’s only that mentality because of our profession (as journalists). Our profession has continued to promote that reflection — still does, to this day.”
As for Golden and the Transcript’s coverage of the Black community, Porter believed it likely made Black residents feel unsafe and unwelcome, saying, “They know that any coverage of them will not be balanced and fair.”
Fairness and racial equity are concepts Golden, Denver, the United States and journalism as a profession need to work on, he stated.
“I don’t see our profession doing enough work in that area,” Porter said. “I hear the talk. But I’m not seeing anything to back it up.”
While these are good first steps, real change has to start with people’s attitudes, GAC members Scrable and Michele Minihane said.
Although many Goldenites are open-minded and inclusive, Minihane personally believed there are still some residents who “do not value an integrated community and don’t feel like it’s important to make people of color feel welcome.”
She added: “I don’t get the sense that (attitudes) have changed a lot in 40 or 50 years.”
Scrable agreed that tangible changes, whether in attitudes or policies, have been slow. He said it’s going to take time and everyone working together to make Golden a more welcoming and inclusive place.
The two described how the Golden Anti-Racism Collective has become a place where people can share their experiences, examine systemic racism’s impact on the community, and find ways to improve Golden for current and future generations.
As of last month, GAC has about 400 members on an email list and a few dozen who come to its regular meetings. There are several subgroups within the Golden Anti-Racism Collective that tackle different topics such as policy and policing, education, and books and media.
While the bulk of the members are White, any Goldenites of color are welcome to join and participate as they’re able, the members said.
The group has established a unique partnership with the Golden Police Department, as some of its members sit on the department’s community engagement group, GAC member Sandra Knecht explained. GAC and other community members have given feedback on various department policies, particularly around use of force.
GAC members also try to comment on City Council discussions and participate in other local matters, including education, youth outreach and affordable housing. In doing so, the group has developed partnerships with Shelton Elementary, the Golden Library, Colorado School of Mines student groups, Golden United and other groups that share GAC’s goals.
Similar to GAC, Golden United formed after the 2016 election as “there was a fair amount of division, nationally and locally,” Ronnie Rosenbaum said. The group sought to bring people together and encourage respect for those who have different ideas and opinions.
Minihane stressed how the GAC believes systemic racism impacts all Golden residents, regardless of race, and recommended locals read “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee
to learn more about that impact.
For the City of Golden
In summer 2020, the Golden City Council produced a series of resolutions meant to address its history of racial exclusion and racist domination of non-White groups, Tellis stated.
These resolutions included:
Resolution 2736 states, “the Golden City Council recognizes
that racial inequities have become institutionalized in the policies and practices of many agencies, governmental and otherwise. Council recognizes the need to examine seemingly neutral policies and practices to determine whether they are contributing to inequity and, where needed, change or eliminate the policy or practice as cities have a long history of decision and policy making that have resulted in classist and racist outcomes.”
- Create a culture of inclusion and belonging throughout the community of Golden;
- Increase access to services and resources for diverse community members;
- Foster an organizational culture and environment within the City of Golden that’s committed to racial equity, diversity and inclusion; and
- Expand economic opportunities for diverse businesses.
Along with the REDI Action Plan, the consultants also recommended dozens of strategies toward these goals and an implementation plan.
For instance, public documents and other information should be available to those who don’t speak English or have different abilities. City boards and commissions should have a more inclusive recruiting process to ensure diversity among their members. The city also should host training about Golden’s history, structural racism and implicit bias.
The plan was developed with race as the leading element because of how widespread and damaging racial inequalities are in the United States, according to city consultants. However, the REDI Action Plan is overall intersectional, examining how to make Golden a better place for people of all ages, abilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and other demographics.
Officials said the next step is to assemble an implementation team of community members and city staffers to make recommendations to City Council on how to achieve goals. Golden expects to assemble the team this spring.
In a Feb. 10 email, Mayor Laura Weinberg highlighted city officials and community members’ ongoing work to “live up to our value as a welcoming and inclusive city.”
“I applaud the Golden Transcript’s work to identify its role in racial inequities in the past and its role in systemic racism,” she stated. “The City of Golden has undertaken similar work … (and) I look forward to this year’s actions to take the information from our new REDI plan and put community-driven solutions into practice.”
For the Golden Transcript
While the Transcript’s ownership and newsroom has changed greatly since the late 1960s and early ‘70s, it’s not immune from the biases and attitudes that riddled its past coverage and contributed to systemic racism in and around Golden.
Scrable said reading the Transcript’s past coverage of the Black community can be “demoralizing,” but even recent stories have failed to represent Black voices accurately.
He pointed to an Aug. 31, 2020 Transcript story about City Council’s decision to display a “Golden Stands With Black Lives” banner over Washington Avenue. The story said the banner would be displayed for 60 days, “an amount of time intended to symbolize how long it took for slave ships to cross the Atlantic.”
Scrable and his GAC co-chairs did advocate for 60 days, but he said they never assigned any symbolism or significance to the number.
“It might’ve been said (in the meeting), but it wasn’t us,” Scrable said of GAC.
During the 2020 meeting, Councilmember Bill Fisher stated that he wanted the banner to be up for a period of time that was “meaningful” and mentioned that 60 days would be a meaningful period because it would represent the general length of that crossing. He did not say who had first suggested that symbolism or if it was his own suggestion.
After the story, Scrable received about 20 phone calls from people upset about the supposed symbolism. He felt the Transcript missed an important detail about the timeframe and that it was insensitive, creating a frustrating experience.
He wanted the Transcript to ensure there are positive stories about people from historically marginalized groups, and do better educating Goldenites about their neighbors’ achievements and experiences.
Scrable added: “I’m looking to the Transcript to paint a positive picture for all people of color … and representing ‘all’ versus ‘a few.’”
The Colorado Community Media
newsroom acknowledges it has work to do, and this February 2023 report is only the first step in what the team hopes will open a wider conversation about systemic racism and media coverage for years to come. Working on this report brought CCM staff members face-to-face with outdated practices and implicit biases.
Going forward, CCM’s goal is to include more voices of color in the newsroom and on the pages of its two dozen publications, Publisher Linda Shapley said. CCM wants to ensure all local voices are heard and included, while also reflecting on racial equity, diversity and inclusion. CCM will strive to consider the lenses through which the staff decides to cover stories in the first place. Appreciating differences in CCM’s coverage areas, like history and culture, will guide the newsroom in its efforts.
For all journalists, Porter stressed the importance of continuing to diversify newsrooms and ensuring fair, balanced and objective coverage and “stop convicting people without evidence.”
He called on more publications to review their past coverage and acknowledge its harmful impacts, saying it’s important to shine a light on the truth, to be honest and to be transparent.
“If we’re ever going to get past this, it’s going to take some truth-telling,” he said. “It will be hard. It will be difficult. But it really is one of the last vestiges to make this country what it said it was in the beginning — freedom and liberty for all. Which has not been the case for us.”
Jameka Lewis, Allan Tellis, Kristen Fiore, Rylee Dunn, Christy Steadman, Steve Smith and Deborah Grigsby contributed to this report. Greg Moore contributed as an editor.
Editor’s note: The section, “For the Golden Transcript,” was edited for clarity after publication.