Latino students at Denver’s West High walked out this week in 1969 to protest inequalities
Denver - Forty-six years ago this coming Friday, one of the largest and most violent student protests in Colorado history broke out on March 20th, 1969 when over a hundred Chicano and Chicana students at Denver’s West High School walked out of their classes to protest racism in their school.
Despite the large number of students with Mexican heritage at West High, the school was not welcoming to their minority students. The students, along with support from Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and other members of Denver’s Crusade for Justice, organized the walkout. The students demanded more bilingual classes, Chicano history and literature to be a part of the curriculum, the firing of a faculty member, as well as a call for teachers to stop advising students to join the military while war raged in Vietnam.
On the morning of March 20th, students began leaving classes in small groups, and were met by members of the Crusade. Nearly 300 people then marched to nearby Baker Junior High, where they amassed more demonstrators and then returned to West High. There, police in riot gear ordered the protesters to Sunken Gardens Park across the street from the school.
Altercations between the protesters and police began escalating while protesters were forced into the park. An observer, Jim Hall, wrote in the neighborhood newspaper West Side Recorder, “Everything broke loose — night sticks started swinging and cops were pulling girls’ hair by the handful. Nearly every cop I saw had a mindless look and was beating kids savagely.” At the end of the day, 25 people were arrested, six injured, including one police officer.
This protest ignited students from other Denver junior-high and high schools to join in solidarity to protest again on March 21st, where more than 1,200 students of all races gathered at West High. They marched to nearby Lincoln Park for a rally, where police and protesters clashed again.
To learn more about the West High Walkout visit History Colorado’s new exhibit El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado, open through October 25. History Colorado will also present a panel discussion on the walkout and other student activism in Colorado on May 5. Visit historycolorado.org for more details.
History Colorado's mission is to inspire generations to find wonder and meaning in our past and to engage in creating a better Colorado. We serve as the state's memory, preserving the places, stories, and material culture of Colorado through our museums, educational programs, historic preservation grants, research library, collections, and outreach to Colorado communities. Find History Colorado on all major social media platforms. Visit HistoryColorado.org or call (303) HISTORY for more information.