Recognizing Wyoming’s Pioneers for the Black Community

Published: Feb. 3, 2021 at 7:20 PM CST
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Throughout the month of February, we pay tribute in acknowledging, celebrating, and praising African American and Black people for their accomplishments and excellence. Wyoming demographically only hosts Black or African American population a little over one percent. History tells us, many African Americans/Black people have paved the way in creating and influencing their community within the ‘Equality State’.

Within the walls of the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Pages and books filled with historical figures and their influence of the black community within Wyoming. Going through and recognizing them all would take longer than I have been allotted in writing this article or putting a report on.

Therefore, I chose two individuals and one group that I thought would be significant in speaking about and acknowledging their influence.

Starting with, The Searchlight Club. Founded in 1904 by a group of black women in Cheyenne. Wyoming became the first women’s club specifically for the city. They were created in response to a lynching of an African American man, Joe Martin, in the neighboring town of Laramie, Wyoming. The group provided scholarships for women to go to college, and were a big part of philanthropic activities within the Cheyenne community.

Then Nollie Smith, born in Cheyenne, Nollie was a child prodigy as he was in the top of his class at Cheyenne High. He also was a star football player, later receiving a scholarship to play football at Nebraska University. Later, he would attend the school and study civil engineering. After college, Nollie would work in Colorado for a few years before he went off to Hawaii. He learned the language and culture of Hawaii and took interest in politics. As time went on, Nollie would join the Hawaii state legislature and serve his time there until he decided to retire and returned to Cheyenne. There, he received the key to the city in 1973.

Lastly, Barney Ford. Initially, Barney was a runaway slave from Virginia. Barney made his way to Chicago where he later married and moved to Colorado with his wife in pursuit of the Gold Rush event at the time. During his stay in Colorado, he opened up a barbershop and pushed for Civil Rights amongst the black community. He would advocate for a bigger voice amongst black people, and would advocate for their involvement in politics. In 1867, the Union Pacific Railroad began running through Cheyenne late that year. Ford saw the opportunity to branch out. Using the Railroad to transport food and goods. He was able to take advantage of the opportunity and built the Inter-Ocean Hotel in Cheyenne back in 1875.

Furthermore, with the addition of Ford’s new hotel. According to an article published in 2017 by Dan Anderson, “The new hotel offered lodging for 150, the dining room could seat 180, and it included a gentlemen’s reading room, a ladies’ dining room, billiard hall, gentlemen’s club, and a barber shop. At the time, it was considered the finest hotel between St. Louis and San Francisco, and over the next forty years, it welcomed a number of famous guests, including Teddy Roosevelt. It was also used for meetings of the Wyoming territorial legislature.”

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