O.T. Jackson with Booker T. Washington Jr. and family on Jackson’s Dearfield land, circa 1913. Booker T. Washington III is holding a squash. (Paul Stewart Collection, SC106_02_0034. Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Northern Colorado. Greeley, Colorado)
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Colorado introduced legislation to assess the historical significance of the largest Black homestead settlement in Colorado.
U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, of Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, and Joe Neguse, of the 2nd District, introduced the Dearfield Study Act to direct the Department of Interior to do a special resource study on the Dearfield Homestead, which would determine its historical significance and feasibility of the land becoming part of the U.S. National Park System.
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“America must always be mindful of its past,” Buck, a Republican, said in a statement last week. “We cannot properly do that if we do not preserve physical elements of our history.”
“The cultural places and stories we choose to protect reflect our values as a nation,” Neguse, a Democrat, said. “The Dearfield Homestead holds a unique place in Colorado’s historical record, and this study will serve as a critical step in assessing the benefits of incorporating the site into the National Park Service to further support and preserve it.”
The Dearfield Homestead was founded by Oliver Toussaint Jackson in 1910, and was home to multiple churches, businesses and restaurants, reaching its peak in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Jackson was inspired by Booker T. Washington to establish the colony with the “belief that land ownership was the best path to prosperity for African Americans,” according to the statement. Washington was a Black activist and author, and he helped to found what is now known as Tuskegee University, a historically Black university in Alabama.
The Dearfield Homestead, a thriving agriculture community, was home to 700 residents from 35 states until the Dust Bowl — a period of dust storms — and the collapsing crop prices that followed, forced many residents to return to the Denver area, according to the statement.
“Preserving Dearfield for current and future generations is integral to a better understanding of the unique and relatively unknown African American experience on Colorado’s eastern plains, and it’s also a bridge that can connect us toward a fuller, more representative story of our nation,” Tracy Coppola, Colorado senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in the statement.
This is not the first time Neguse and Buck co-sponsored legislation to establish land as part of the National Park System.
Last year, Neguse, Buck and Reps. Jason Crow, of the 6th Congressional District, Ed Perlmutter, of the 7th District and Diana DeGette of the 1st District co-sponsored the Amache National Historic Site legislation, which would establish the Amache National Historic Site as part of the National Park System and turn the land previously used for a Japanese American incarceration facility into a historic site. The bill was companion legislation to a bill Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier last year.
The Granada Relocation Center, sometimes called “Amache” or “Camp Amache,” was 1 of 10 Japanese American incarceration facilities in the United States. The land is in Prowers County.
“Congressmen Neguse and Buck demonstrated what cooperation looks like on the Hill,” Mike Honda, a former representative from California and an Amache survivor, said in Buck’s November press release after the legislation passed out of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee.
Dearfield is about 70 miles northeast of Denver, located in Weld County, according to the National Park Service.
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