Charles Banks - CSPM
Photo of Charles Banks during the Spanish American War

Charles Banks

by Leah Davis Witherow, CSPM Curator of History

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the enslaved were now free. Despite President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation effective January 1, 1863, minimal Union troops in Texas meant Lincoln’s Executive Order was not obeyed. Two and a half years later, initial shock turned into jubilation for the approximately 250,000 enslaved people in Texas. Seeking to reunify with family members who had been cruelly separated, former enslaved people were on the move. Over the next several decades, approximately 6 million African Americans moved out of the south, to the north and the west in what became known as the Great Migration

For many families the journey was often not one but several successive migrations over a number of years. John and Jenny Rhodes lived in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and finally Georgia before settling in Colorado Springs in 1915. Both John and Jenny’s parents were enslaved. John taught himself to read and write and eventually gained employment as the first black brakeman on the Rock Island Railroad. Jenny took in laundry, cared for their four children and graciously opened their home at 745 North Pine Street every summer to many visiting family members, friends, and recent African American migrants to Colorado Springs. 

Seeking political, social and economic equality, African Americans organized a Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP at Payne Chapel in August 1918. Reverend A. Wayman Ward, pastor of the church became the first president. Throughout the 1930s, NAACP members Kimbal Stroud Goffman and Charles Banks were two of the most outspoken local activists working to eliminate segregation. The pair worked to organize Blacks and Hispanics into a coordinated political unit in order to combat discrimination and increase political and economic opportunity.   

Payne Chapel A.M.E. Church
Photo of the Civil Rights Law from the 1935 Colorado Statues Annotated, Chapter 35.

Charles Banks was born February 27, 1880 in Buffalo, West Virginia.  A veteran of the Spanish American War, Charles Banks served proudly with the all black, Company B of the 24th Indiana Volunteers. After his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Banks moved to Colorado Springs in 1905. He was President of the Colorado Springs branch of the NAACP for five years. In the 1940s, Charles Banks worked tirelessly to promote equality and oppose racial segregation and discrimination. He worked as a page in the Colorado State House in the 1930s and used his personal contact with State Senator Edwin Johnson to urge enactment of the1935 Colorado Civil Rights Amendment. As a veteran himself, Charles Banks grew increasingly appalled by the mistreatment of African American soldiers who had served in World War II. 

In 1947, he organized a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent sit-ins at local businesses in violation of the 1935 Colorado Civil Rights Law. In Colorado Springs, African Americans were denied accommodations at local hotels and restaurants among other places. At George’s Hamburgers on South Tejon Street directly across from the Courthouse (now the CSPM), blacks could only order food to go. Several residents remember being denied service at the Walgreen’s lunch counter or having their food so heavily salted it was inedible.  

Lawsuits backed by the local NAACP under the leadership of Charles Banks were filed in October and November 1947 to challenge illegal racial discrimination. These measures proved successful with several businesses forced to pay fines and court costs for their illegal discrimination. From 1905 until his death on September 11, 1976, Charles Banks gained a reputation as a Civil Rights leader and a fearless advocate for equality. To learn more about Charles Banks and the Great Migration, visit the Museum’s permanent exhibit, Any Place North & West. 

Leah Davis Witherow, Curator of History

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