The Stapleton Foundation is ditching the KKK mayor’s name

What may be the first domino in the Stapleton name change movement has fallen.

staff photo
The defunct Stapleton Airport control tower looms over the growing suburban lanscape. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  stapleton airport; suburbs; homes; residential; denverite; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty

The defunct control tower from the old Stapleton Airport looms over the growing suburban landscape. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

What may be the first domino in the Stapleton name change movement has fallen.

The Stapleton Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities, the organization that developed the redevelopment plan for the old municipal airport and worked with the city to choose Forest City as the master developer, will drop Stapleton from its name starting in January.

From here out, the organization will be known simply as The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities.

In a statement posted to the foundation website, CEO Landri Taylor said the name change reflects growing awareness of former Mayor Ben Stapleton’s KKK connections and the broader mission of the foundation today.

Here’s the statement:

The Foundation has recognized the value and need for this change for some time. The Foundation thanks local community groups and residents who have brought focus to the Stapleton name and its relationship to the old airport’s namesake, Ben Stapleton, and his connection to the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.

The new name, “The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities,” better reflects the scope of the foundation’s work today. Our function has grown over the past 15 years beyond Stapleton to the adjacent neighborhoods. The Foundation is now active along the I-70 corridor from downtown Denver to DIA, including northeast Denver and northwest Aurora.

The community and the foundation alike take their name from the old airport, which was named for the mayor who helped construct it. Stapleton was a member of the Klan in the 1920s when the organization was a powerful political force in Denver and Colorado.

Foundation Vice President Alisha Brown was present at two community listening sessions this week that were dominated by people who want to see the name change. They said efforts to “reclaim” the name are misguided, and now that there is more awareness of the mayor’s Klan ties, it sends a bad message to keep it.

Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton's name in a ledger of Ku Klux Klan "certificate holders." (Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/Senter Family Papers)  ku klux klan; kkk; racism; denver; colorado;

Denver Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton's name in a ledger of Ku Klux Klan "certificate holders." (Denver Public Library/Western History Collection/Senter Family Papers)

The Community Advisory Board is set to vote on a name change later this month. That vote is not binding but will serve as a recommendation to Forest City.

Even if the board recommends a change — and its members may not do that — the Stapleton name is unlikely to disappear overnight. A replacement name hasn’t been chosen. (Ideas range from prominent African-Americans in Denver history to location-based names that are already in use, like Northfield.) The homeowners’ association, Stapleton Master Community Association, would have its own process for changing its name. Business owners would have to make their own decisions based on how tied the Stapleton name is to their brand and how quickly any new names gain social currency and enter into broader use.