By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The Black American West Museum & Heritage Center hopes to win $150,000 in funding from a national contest. It’s an effort to preserve the building that tells the story of Dr. Justina Ford and other African American pioneers from Colorado.

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center (credit: CBS)

“We really want to celebrate those stories and understand the contributions that they made,” Terry Gentry said. “This is so critical to the history of the Five Points neighborhood that we share Dr. Ford’s story.”

Dr. Ford became the first licensed black woman doctor in Colorado and delivered more than 7,000 babies during her career. She helped patients from 35 different nationalities and knew almost a dozen different languages and dialects. Ford practiced in Colorado from 1902 to 1952. While the doctor received a medical license, she was denied membership to the Colorado Medical Society and could not practice at a hospital.

Dr. Justina Ford

Dr. Justina Ford (credit: CBS)

“There aren’t a lot of folks like Dr. Ford who persevered and pursued her their dream of becoming a physician,” Gentry said. “There were a lot of folks who said you are not allowed to do any of those things and she did anyway.”

Gentry is part of the all-volunteer staff for the museum located on 3091 California Street. She has a personal connection to many of the people profiled inside the building including her great grandfather, the first black licensed dentist in Colorado. The museum is in the former home of Dr. Ford. Ford purchased the house in 1911 and invited patients to visit her there. The doctor would travel to see families when it was time to deliver their child.

(credit: CBS)

Gentry provides tours and helps to maintain the museum with other volunteers and the board of directors. There are no paid positions for the nonprofit, but their budget could still benefit from the cash prize awarded in the Partners in Preservation campaign. The museum is working with Historic Denver to compete against other preservation sites across the country. The museum is the only location from Colorado among the final 20 entries.

“I am humbled to be here in the museum, I have ancestors here,” she said. “We still have Ford babies come into the museum to celebrate Dr. Ford.”

Dr. Justina Ford

Dr. Justina Ford (credit: CBS)

One of those “Ford babies” who visited earlier this year is Joseph Martinez. He has lived in Colorado most of his life and later learned about his connection to Ford. During Black History Month, he had the chance to visit the museum and learn more about the doctor who delivered him decades ago.

“I looked at it and her name was written on it and I said how cool is this,” he explained about his birth certificate.  “It was just so exhilarating to know that I was delivered by this lady and the history behind her.”

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center

Black American West Museum & Heritage Center (credit: CBS)

He remembers that visit and the impact seeing her photo on the wall had on him. Martinez says just seeing her family told him that she was a special woman.

“It just blew my mind. I was just overwhelmed,” he said about his visit.  “I always wanted to see her and it was just overwhelming, I was so happy.”

The money awarded in the contest will help restore important preservation sites thanks to American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. To mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, the campaign has put a special emphasis on celebrating the contributions of women in main street communities like Dr. Ford. The museum hopes to use the money for masonry work and to restore windows on the building.

Joseph Martinez talks with CBS4 about his connection to Dr. Ford.

Joseph Martinez talks with CBS4 about his connection to Dr. Ford. (credit: CBS)

“How terrible is that? A lady trying to do some good could not really do her job the way she wanted, however she got it done,” Martinez said. “That was so amazing, she didn’t let that stop her.”

Ford delivered babies every three days for 50 years. She did not retire until two weeks before she passed away. Her legacy lives on in the home that almost got torn down and had to move to a new spot from its original location. Her supporters say this money will help ensure her story is not forgotten.

“I hope to see this museum 400 years from now, I think folks need to know who Dr. Ford was,” Gentry said.

Martinez now has grandchildren and he remembers at their age, he did not know what was happening to adults like Ford. Now his grandchildren do not have to worry about the same concerns but he wants them to always know that history.

You can vote each day to support the museum now until Oct. 29.

“The children growing up today, they know need to know this and how bad the prejudice was growing up,” he said.  “They need to realize that everybody is equal.”

Shawn Chitnis


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