NewsBlack History Month


Preserving Black History: Hattie McDaniel's Fort Collins home and efforts to save Dearfield

The Hattie McDaniel House.jpg
Posted at 5:00 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 07:52:28-05

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – In 1939, the first Black person to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, was banned from the premier of the film that helped her earn the coveted award because of the color of her skin.

Despite facing decades of discrimination, McDaniel would continue to make history — and part of her story begins in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“I think Colorado was actually, I would call it, the foundation of her true performing career which prepared her for Hollywood,” McDaniel’s great-grandnephew Kevin Goff, said.

Goff and his wife recently moved to Fort Collins from California to learn more about his aunt.

“She's from Wichita, Kan. And from there, they migrated to Fort Collins around 1900. And they did that because the father wants to find, you know, more work and a better opportunity for his family,” Goff said.

Standing in front of McDaniel’s childhood home in Fort Collins, Goff described McDaniel’s childhood.

“They were here for maybe a year or so… she was probably 5 or 6 years old,” Goff said. “This area actually, there were a lot of African American families here. And she had a childhood friend, Ruth, and she was white. And they were best friends. And they (Ruth’s family) have a general store around the corner that still exists today.

Goff said while in Fort Collins, McDaniel became interested in performing in a vaudeville act with her siblings.

“Otis was the oldest sibling out of 13. And he was kind of like the inspiration as far as entertainment. And then their brother Sam went right out there with Otis. And then Etta joined, Hattie was still young. And she said, ‘mom, let me go and be on the road with my siblings,'" Goff explained.

He said McDaniel begged her parents repeatedly before eventually quitting high school to go into entertainment.

"And one of the reasons for that is because the family was struggling. The father was injured during the Civil War, so he was having a hard time getting work,” Goff said.

Otis would die around 1914-1915, shaking the family to its core, "because he was kind of like the rock as far as venturing out and doing creative things," McDaniel's great-grandnephew said. "Eventually, Sam and Etta went to Los Angeles to try Hollywood. And they were doing pretty well. And then Hattie went out like around 1931 and started her Hollywood dream.”

McDaniel would eventually win the Academy award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as "Mammy" in "Gone with the Wind."

"Hattie looked at that as an opportunity," Goff said. "Number one, you're trying to survive. Number two, 'if I can get into this role, if I can win the role, and knock it out of the park, then that can open the door.'"

He said Hattie was not a one dimensional woman.

"The gift that she gave me and that I tell people and I share with them is she taught me to appreciate women even more," Goff said. "Because women might get credit for two or three things, but they're doing a million things."

Goff said he’s glad Fort Collins has created a historic marker to honor McDaniel’s contributions to history.

“History is great, I think, any chance we get to preserve history, it's a win win,” Goff said.

Coronado Lodge.jpg

Black History Month

Black History: Pueblo preserves 1940s era motel, museum searches for a new home

Micah Smith
4:13 PM, Feb 08, 2024


About an hour away from McDaniel’s home, another home for Black Americans who, like McDaniel, weren’t that far removed from enslavement is fading away.

“Dearfield was an African American community. It was created about 25 miles east of Greeley and it started off in 1910. And that lasted pretty much until the Dust Bowl came in the late 20s. And then pretty much disappeared after that,” said University of Northern Colorado professor of Africana Studies George Junne, a Dearfield expert.

Junne explained how another man by the name of Oliver Toussaint Jackson took on Booker T. Washington's philosophy that Black people should own their houses and their own lands, "and was able to homestead out there in for Deerfield.”

The Homestead Act allowed Americans to buy land for a minimal filing fee if they agreed to maintain the land and live there for five years.
Junne said when Dearfield was founded, Black Coloradans were facing major barriers to owning land and owning homes.

“As Dearfield was getting off the ground, you had one of the largest klaverns of the Ku Klux Klan in Denver, one of the largest in the country. So that's going up, that's expanding. Meanwhile at Dearfield, as far as we could tell from all the reports and newspaper accounts and police records and everything like that, the farmers at Dearfield got along very well with their white neighbors. And they were also loaning each other equipment. They would have dances,” Junne said.

Junne said at one point, Dearfield spanned 20,000 acres and had 200 residents.

 “It was highly successful in every way,” Junne said.

These days, almost 100 years after the Dust Bowl that destroyed the settlement, there’s not much left of Dearfield.

“You will see the remains of just a few buildings. And when you go in on the right-hand side, there is what's left of the restaurant that was there… on the left side there is the what's left of the gas station and grocery store,” Junne said. “We're working with some people right now in Congress. And there is a bill that passed to examine Dearfield. We're trying to see if Dearfield will be a national monument. We've gotten a couple other grants to stabilize some of the buildings and so forth.”

Junne said for now, Dearfield is an unofficial monument to Black resilience post enslavement and to lose it would mean losing a symbol of the American Dream.

Preserving Black History: Hattie McDaniel's Fort Collins home and efforts to save Dearfield

D7 follow up bar 2460x400FINAL.png
The Follow Up
What do you want Denver7 to follow up on? Is there a story, topic or issue you want us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.