The first name that visitors to the Pikes Peak Region see as they depart the Colorado Springs Airport is Reverend Milton E. Proby; a man who advocated for equality, justice, and peace from the pulpit of St. John’s Baptist Church of Colorado Springs.
Born in DeKalb, Texas in 1929, Milton E. Proby grew up in the segregated Jim Crow South. After graduating High School, Proby joined the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War. These experiences led to a lifelong commitment to civil rights and humanitarian work.
Reverend Proby earned his BA in Theology, and began preaching before the age of 20. Along with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., he was part of vanguard group of preachers who lead the movement to dismantle Jim Crow laws and challenge racial prejudice. Reflecting on this time, Proby noted that, “The only ones who could (move civil right forward) were the churches. We didn’t have lawyers and all those other things. It was all we had.”
In 1958, Proby arrived in Colorado Springs to become the Pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church. During his 47 years at St. John’s, he delivered holistic gospels, as exemplified by his words: “In the streets people are dying and going hungry, and you call yourselves the chosen of God? Quit coming to church to satisfy yourself. The reason for living is beyond yourself.” Under his leadership, health and welfare programs were established— including the St. John’s Food Bank— and a new church was built in 1976.
As a pillar of the Black community, Proby joined the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, and worked diligently to bring equality to Colorado Springs. In 1959, Proby started the Colorado Springs Human Relations Commission, which works closely with the City to address racial issues. In 1963 Proby became the first Chairman of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission; whose mission is to combat discrimination in Colorado through outreach, research, and legislative recommendations. He continued to serve on the Commission for over 25 years; striving to make change through dialogue, not confrontation.
In 1998 — sixteen years after Reverend Proby’s efforts to rename Fountain Boulevard in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. — a bypass of Highway 24 was dedicated to the Civil Rights leader. The renaming was not without controversy and highlighted the importance of Proby’s lifelong work. As Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace stated at the dedication: “Intolerance, ignorance and prejudice do exist in Colorado Springs. We must stand up and say ‘not here.’”
Reverend Milton E. Proby died on May 21, 2005 at 75. Nearly one year later, friends, relatives, supporters and City of Colorado Springs officials gathered to dedicate Milton E. Proby Parkway. His name, his legacy, and the results of his dedication to civil rights live on.
Generously Submitted by Hillary Mannion, CSPM Archivist