Who was Barney Ford and what is his connection to Colorado history?
What were the opportunity costs of the decisions he made?
Barney Ford was a former slave who used the underground railroad to escape from a South Carolina plantation. He used the underground railroad to travel to Chicago, then further traveled west to settle in California. Ford and his wife never reached California, but instead started a hotel business in Nicaragua. Due to war in Nicaragua, Ford returned to Chicago where he ran a livery station that was also a part of the underground railroad. In 1860, the Fords went seeking prosperity with gold by traveling to Colorado. After failed mining attempts, and repeated instances of discrimination, Ford moved to Denver to try his hand at business. Ford did indeed become a successful businessman, building a barbershop, a restaurant and hotels. Ford became an influential statesman during the early days of Colorado’s statehood. He worked for civil rights of African American citizens including the right to vote and greater education opportunities. His story is an example of determination and intelligence bringing about change in America.
Annotated Resource Set (ARS)
Statue of Barney Ford in Breckenridge, Colorado
The Ford House
Re-created classroom inside the Ford House
1514 Blake Street Denver
Residence of BL Ford Breckenridge
Ford, a onetime runaway mulatto slave, who discovered gold on what is now Barney Ford Hill nearby, made a fortune
Designed by Elias Nashold and built in 1882 in Breckenridge, Colorado
Re-created classroom inside the Ford House, designed by Elias Nashold and built in 1882 in Breckenridge, Colorado
View of a commercial building at 1514 Blake Street (built 1863 - at onetime Barney Ford's People's Restaurant) in the Union Station Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado.
Barney Ford 1822-1902 Businessman Came to Denver in 1860
Reproduction of a print of the Barney L. Ford house in Breckenridge (Summit County), Colorado.
Ford contributed to the development of Breckenridge, CO
This circa 1882 house was built for Barney Ford, who escaped slavery to become a prosperous entrepreneur and activist.
By the 1870s, Ford had become one of the wealthiest men in Colorado. He and a friend, Henry Wagoner, founded a school for African Americans.
The People’s Restaurant, Ford’s first successful restaurant in Colorado, is the only property that still stands that once belonged to Ford.
Barney Ford was nominated as a member of the Colorado Black Hall of Fame in 1973.
At the time it was built in 1882, this house was one of the finest in Breckenridge, but had no kitchen as Ford owned a restraint down the street.
Students will be able to arrange the events in Barney Ford’s life.
Students will be able to analyze the choices Barney Ford made in terms of opportunity cost.
Students will be able to explain the impact Barney Ford had on Colorado’s statehood.
Students will be able to investigate the role of discrimination on African Americans in the American West.
Students will be able to identify the names and contributions of African Americans who used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery.
Inquiry Questions, Activities and Strategies
Using the primary sources provided, make a visual timeline of the Barney Ford’s life.
Define opportunity cost. Follow with a discussion asking students to identify the times when Ford had to make a decision that changed the course of his life. Students can answer questions such as: What factors affected his decisions? Why did he make one choice rather than another? Ask students to do a cost/benefit analysis using a t-chart.
After reading about Ford’s life, ask students to predict what would have happened if Ford had not intervened in Colorado’s bid for statehood because of his beliefs about the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Colorado Territory.
Students may research other people who used the Underground Railroad to find success as free men/women.
Students can share the instances of discrimination that they faced that may have been barriers to their goals.
Depending upon how one uses the resources and which standards are chosen, assessment can take many forms. For example:
CO State History Standard 1: (c-d) Students identify different minority groups who settled the American West, then list their contributions to the settlement of certain areas, or their effects on legislation in western states.
CO State History Standard 2 (d) Using one of the African Americans researched, students write an essay about his/her contributions to American History.
CO State Economics Standard 2: (a-d) Ask students to do a cost/benefit analysis of their daily choices, then explain the opportunity cost of one of their decisions. Students may also do the same with the events of a famous historical figure.
Barney Ford: Pioneer Businessman (Great Lives in Colorado History) by Jamie Trumbull. Filter Press, Bilingual Edition, 2010 - For students and teachers
Barney Ford, Black Baron by Marian Talmadge. Dodd Mead, 1973 - For teachers
Print and Other Media Resources
Barney Ford was one the first African Americans that fought for equal civil and voting rights for African Americans in Colorado. His accomplishments opened up the door for other minority entrepreneurs in the American West. Ford’s building, the People’s Restaurant at 1514 Blake Street is one of the few remaining buildings in Denver that is associated with him.
Teaching with Primary Sources - Annotated Resource Set