A Denver neighborhood is moving to change its name to remove its ties to a former mayor who was active in the Ku Klux Klan.
The Stapleton neighborhood in Colorado was built on the site of Stapleton International Airport, which was a major aviation hub and an economic driver for the area. It was named after Benjamin Stapleton, a five-term Denver mayor who was first elected in the 1920s.
Community officials in Stapleton are meeting this week to begin the process of changing its name, according to a statement from its Master Community Association (MCA).
“It has become more clear that continuing with the current name is hurtful to many residents of all backgrounds and life experiences,” the statement reads. “As a community that aims to foster inclusivity, diversity and respect, maintaining the current name only serves to divide us.”
The news comes as cities around the country move to take down Confederate statues and other controversial memorials amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests demanding racial justice.
As mayor, Stapleton appointed a number of Klan members to political positions, including a police chief, Colorado State Historian William Wei told CNN in 2019.
The Stapleton International Airport was replaced by Denver International Airport and torn down in 1995 to make way for new developments. A number of businesses adopted the name and Stapleton control tower is now a restaurant.
Dana Elkind, the president of the MCA’s board of directors, told CNN that a lot of people think the community was named after the airport.
“But of course, the airport was named after Ben Stapleton,” Elkind said. “So if you do the math, the community is named after Ben Stapleton, and he was a KKK member.”
In August of 2019, a majority of property owners – 65% – voted to keep the Stapleton name for the neighborhood.
Elkind said that the vote last year wasn’t binding and that only about a third of eligible community members voted.
“I think we did not really get a good feeling from the community and nobody seemed to care,” he said. “Now people care.”
Others in the community agree that the name change seems more welcomed as protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death sweep the nation. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May.
“I feel that I’m seeing people say, ‘I made that decision not knowing the full story, and now I’m ready to make a different decision’” Justin Ross, president of The Greater Stapleton Business Association, told CNN.
Ross, who was the second homeowner to move into Stapleton when the development opened in 2002, said he was unaware of the mayor’s racist past.
He and his wife, Marissa, are facing the same dilemma with their own business. They started Stapleton Mortgage and Realty in 2003 and have spent the last 17 years building growing their brand and their connection to the community.
“We’re a black-owned business and we definitely don’t adhere to the history of the KKK by any means,” Ross said.
He said he’s lobbied for the neighborhood name change, even though it could hurt their business.
“We’ve done a lot. Spent a lot of time, spent a lot of money giving back in our community, but this community supports us,” Ross said. “We’re recognizable. They know us by name. They know our brand, they know our green door. They know our green house. To recreate that is scary.”
The Greater Stapleton Business Association is meeting on Tuesday, Ross said, to discuss how they should respond and whether it should pick a new name now, or wait until the neighborhood comes up with a new name.
The MCA said that it will recommend that the board remove the name Stapleton from all branding, signage, marking material and its governing documents.
It will also work with the neighborhood association to come up with a new name with input from the community. The developer and the city will also have to approve the plan.
Elkind said the board will have to give at least two weeks notice before holding the vote to approve the plan.
Former Colorado State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is Stapleton’s great grandson, tweeted his thoughts on the change on Saturday.
“Disappointed only that dem process overlooked; votes cast multiple times by neighborhood residents,” he wrote.
“BUT.. IF..changing a name brings more equity, fairnesss and oppt’y for Denverites and specifically Coloradans of Color, I’m all IN.”
CNN’s Scott McLean contributed to this report.