By Marissa Armas

DENVER (CBS) – The Byers Branch of the Denver Public Library on the 600 block Santa Fe Drive has a new namesake. It now honors a leader in Denver Native American community instead.

On Thursday, the library renaming committee voted to change the name from Byers Branch Library to the Thunderbird Man Branch after John Emhoolah Jr., who was a Korean war vet and a Denver Native American activist.

(credit: CBS)

Ed Sandoval, who is a member on the committee and a community activist in the area, said this name change came after months of conversations. It’s something Sandoval has been waiting a long time for.

“I’m delighted. I’m just so happy that this library will bear the name of somebody whom I respected,” Sandoval said. “I think it’s going to be important for our community to have this library to be named after somebody who’s done a lot of good in their life, rather than somebody who was a racist.”

The conversation to rename the library really grew traction in 2020, after the nation’s call for social justice. Erika R. Martinez, a library spokesperson, said that’s when the library staff started doing their own research on the names of their buildings, and they found out the history of William N. Byers.

“During that process we learned that William N. Byers contributed and supported the Sand Creek Massacre,” said Martinez.

(credit: CBS)

Martinez said Byers’ history doesn’t align with the values of the organization which is why they wanted to find someone else to represent the branch, and that’s where Emhoolah Jr. comes in, who also happens to be a descendant of survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre.

“Thunderbird man was a name gifted to him by his family after this death,” Martinez said.

Emhoolah Jr. died in April 2021. Sandoval believes this renaming is a small racial reckoning for the Native community.

“We want to make sure that the icons that we have in our community and elsewhere are people who deserve to be put up on a pedestal,” Sandoval said.

Martinez said the library will host a celebration to commemorate the name change on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021 at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the library. While some of the signs can be changed quickly, Martinez said the name on the building could take a couple months to change and engrave because the building is considered historic.

Marissa Armas