Home of Fort Collins High's first Black graduate could become a historic landmark

City Council will vote on the designation Tuesday
Virgil Thomas home
Posted at 9:30 AM, Sep 21, 2021

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – A modest 600-square foot house on Cherry Street in Fort Collins may soon become a historic landmark due to its connections to the town’s Black history.

In 1940, Virgil Thomas became the first Black graduate of Fort Collins High School and he lived at the home on Cherry Street with his family.

“He was an athlete, went on to college and went into the military,” Kim Baker Medina, the owner of the property said.

Medina said BIPOC Alliance is leading the preservation efforts and has recently been trying to preserve more historically significant places in Fort Collins, especially those with ties to Black history and the history of other people of color.

Unfortunately many of them have already been knocked down.

“Fort Collins, like many communities, is becoming gentrified and when it becomes gentrified, little 600-square foot houses like this tend to be knocked over to make room for 6,000-square foot mansions,” Medina said.

In a letter to City Council, BIPOC Alliance wrote: “Although the site has evolved since the Thomas family owned it in the 1940s, it represents the contributions of African Americans in this town since its early origins. We believe that BIPOC’s (Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color) people-centered historic preservation speaks of a desire to create a landscape that truly reflects the diversity of our community.”

Fort Collins City Council will vote on the designation during Tuesday's meeting.

If the designation is approved, the Thomas home would be the first historic landmark in Fort Collins to achieve the honor specifically for its connection to Black history.

“Preservation is now taking a look at everyone in our history and our communities and so we feel it’s really important to preserve small homes like this one as well, that maybe don’t have the elegance and the architecture but have a very important story to tell and in this particular case the story of the Thomas family,” Medina said.

Medina said the Thomas home is across the street from Hattie McDaniel’s home.

McDaniel’s played Mammy, a house slave, in the movie "Gone With the Wind." McDaniel won an Oscar for the role, and was the first African-American to win the award.

Her home has a plaque, but like the Thomas home, it has not been designated as a historic landmark.

But Medina and BIPOC Alliance hope the push for the Thomas home designation will pave the way for more landmarks with ties to BIPOC communities.