Colorado History

Stapleton Neighborhood Delegates Vote to Change Name of Community

The name Stapleton is on its way out from this Denver neighborhood.
The name Stapleton is on its way out from this Denver neighborhood. Courtesy of Liz Stalnaker
Stapleton, the neighborhood in northeast Denver that bears the name of Mayor Ben Stapleton, a onetime KKK member, will soon get a new name.

"If NASCAR can get rid of the Confederate flag, we can make a small statement that changing the name Stapleton is the right thing to do to support our community and show that we are inclusive and really mean it," Christie Spilsted, a delegate to the Master Community Association of Stapleton, said on June 17 before she and other delegates voted unanimously to support a name change for the neighborhood.

The delegates not only voted to recommend that their board change the neighborhood's name, but they committed to working with the Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) group on picking a new name, and pledged that they'd present that new name to the board for final approval.

The vote represents a key moment in the decades-long struggle by racial-justice advocates to remove any homages to Mayor Stapleton from the city. In recent years, the Stapleton name has disappeared from signage and organizational monikers, but it remained the official title of the neighborhood, which was built on the site of the old Stapleton International Airport, which was named after the mayor back in 1944.

In August 2019, the Master Community Association had organized a referendum of property owners on changing the name. With just 30 percent turnout, approximately 65 percent of the voters expressed a desire to keep the name.

But then protests after the killing of George Floyd swept through Denver, sending thousands to the streets and bringing a new impetus to a potential name change for Stapleton. Before neighborhood delegates could discuss the idea, however, Denver School Board member Tay Anderson tweeted an ultimatum to the Stapleton neighborhood: Change the name or we march. The next day, the Master Community Association published a statement in which delegates committed to a name change. The vote on June 17 solidified that position.

Now the Master Community Association and SUN, which recently rebranded and is removing "Stapleton" from its Facebook page, will form a committee that will focus on selecting a new name.

SUN is currently fielding suggestions and has already received about seventy submissions. The committee will then narrow the possibilities "to a number that’s more manageable for the community to begin voting on," according to SUN president Amanda Allshouse.

"The committee won't pick the name. The final outcome will be completely community-driven," Allshouse said during the June 17 Master Community Association meeting.

A name could be chosen as early as late summer, after which the community delegates would present their choice to the Master Community Association board for final approval.

One option for a new neighborhood name that's gaining traction is Westbrook, which would honor Joseph H.P. Westbrook, a light-skinned African-American doctor who infiltrated the Klan during the group's heyday here in Denver. Others are pushing for the neighborhood to be called Justina, in honor of Justina Ford, the first black female medical doctor in Denver.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.