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Celebrating two decades of community history in Five Points

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DENVER — On an overcast Saturday, standing on a small stage in the parking lot of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Five Points, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb asked the standing-room-only crowd if anyone could name the first Black principal in Denver. Only a few hands poked up from the crowd. The first person to answer got it wrong.

Someone in the crowd quietly put forward the correct answer: Jessie Whatley Maxwell, the principal of Whittier Elementary School.

“Every hand in this audience should have been raised,” Webb said.

And this, to Webb — who was Denver’s first Black mayor — is the reason the Blair-Caldwell Library is so important.

“We cannot let our history be destroyed, lost, stolen, stray or forgotten,” Webb said. “Because if we don’t share it with the next generation, it gets lost.”

Webb spoke at Blair-Caldwell as part of a grand reopening and 20th anniversary event. He was mayor when the library opened in 2003 and he and his wife, former state Rep. Wilma Webb, were integral in the planning process, which started in 1999. They insisted on having the library along Welton Street because even two decades ago, they saw that Five Points was at risk of gentrification.

“Which turned out to be true,” Webb added.

Current Blair-Cadlwell staff members were recognized outside the library ahead of the grand reopening, August 12, 2023.

Until August of this year, Blair-Caldwell had been closed for more than a year while it underwent repairs and renovations. The HVAC updates were the most-needed repairs, but the library also underwent a major facelift inside.

At the August 12 celebration, library staff debuted a reimagined children’s area inside the library, as well as a new “teen space” and study rooms. Denver artist Sam McNeil unveiled new public art, too. With his daughter, McNeil created a reading table in the children’s section in the shape of the intersection that Five Points is named after.

Sam McNeil (far right) stands behind the table he made with his daughter, Minerva Spencer.

Guests at the celebration included descendants of Omar Blair and Elvin Caldwell, the two men the library is named after. Blair became the first Black president of the Denver School Board in 1973 and Caldwell, in 1955, was elected as Denver’s first Black city council member.

Monica Caldwell, Elvin Caldwell’s granddaughter, was at the reopening celebration. She remembers being at the grand opening 20 years ago. Asked what it means to see the Caldwell name featured so prominently in Five Points, Monica became emotional.

“It means everything to our family,” she said. “Because he served down here so long, his whole life.”

Monica Caldwell (right) poses with her family next to a portrait of Elvin Caldwell, her grandfather.

The library is three floors. The first floor is a full-service library where people can check out books and use computers. The second floor is a research library and archive, and the third floor hosts the Western Legacies Museum and Charles R. Cousins Gallery. The gallery features art from local creatives on a rotating basis and the museum traces the history of trailblazing Black Americans in Denver and in Colorado.

With the first floor of the library rejuvenated, Dexter Nelson II is looking forward to making some updates to the third floor museum. Nelson, who came from History Colorado, recently joined Blair-Caldwell as the museum and archives supervisor.

“I don’t think it has been changed in about 20 years,” Nelson said of the museum. “And a lot has happened since then. We’re looking forward to working with the community, seeing what stories they want to hear, and seeing what stories they can help us collect.”

“The community loves Blair,” Nelson continued, “and Blair loves the community.”

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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