A Statement from History Colorado

There is anger, grief, and sadness in the heart of our state’s capital and across our country.

In this overwhelming moment as we grapple with a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes, we must also confront the violence against people of color in our communities and across this nation. In just these past few months while shuttered in our homes, we have witnessed the killing of George Floyd by police officers as he pleaded for his life. We have learned of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old health care worker who was in her home asleep in her bed. We have seen the video of Ahmaud Arbery, shot and killed under the guise of citizen policing during an afternoon jog in his neighborhood. We have also witnessed the systems that exacerbated this loss of life with a loss of justice.

As a history organization, we examine the pain of our current moment through the lens of history. The past tells us that social unrest can create productive change, that the expansion of rights and justice are fought for and never given, and that many good people have helped America and Colorado work toward greater expressions of liberty. The present reminds us, despite these labors and triumphs of the past, that justice is a journey that requires constant work. Lonnie G. Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, recalled this yesterday when he said, “Although it will be a monumental task, the past is replete with examples of ordinary people working together to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. History is a guide to a better future and demonstrates that we can become a better society—but only if we collectively demand it from each other and from the institutions responsible for administering justice.”

The History Colorado Center was damaged over the weekend as the anger of this moment spilled into the streets of Denver. We are saddened by the destruction and we were scared for our overnight staff who were in the building. But as an organization that studies history and digs for deeper truth and meaning, we know that we must always go to the roots of the crisis to build greater understanding. While we clean up, we also must document the expressed emotions of the moment—the messages of “I can’t breathe” and “love is the only answer” and more—left at our building. We must continue to connect current events to the historical context of injustice, abuse of power, protests and riots, and movements of change within Colorado.

History Colorado is an active partner in our neighborhoods and communities across Colorado. We do not just reflect on history and collect it. We are working, along with Colorado residents, to build a widely inclusive history of our state that enables us to better understand the many layers of our collective yet richly diverse story. We know that illuminating the truths of our past—even and especially when it is hard to look at—is essential to our ability to move forward, and those truths are the seeds of a just and equitable future.