Men and women who were enslaved did not accept their fate without a fight. Slave revolts were well-known at the time. On the Underground Railroad, Barney L. Ford risked everything to get to freedom in some daring and ingenious methods. Later, he worked to assist others in escaping through the network. Ford’s life and the trip from Virginia to Chicago to Nicaragua to Colorado were difficult, but he persevered, eventually becoming one of Colorado’s most prosperous businessmen.
According to a story, he was known as “the Black Baron of Colorado” in the 1870s, when he was the 14th wealthiest man in the region.
Story Of His Life
Ford grew up in South Carolina, where he learned to read and write from an educated person he was sold to. He was born in 1822 to a Virginia slave and a white plantation owner. Ford was leased out to a showboat at the age of 18 when he met a man who was involved in the abolitionist cause. By dressing up as a slightly built white woman, the man assisted Ford, who was around 26, in escaping the boat. Ford escaped slavery to Chicago, where he also assisted in the transportation of enslaved men and women to the Canadian border.
During this time, Ford overheard people discussing the California gold rush while working in a barbershop. He decided at that point that he and his wife, whom he had recently married, should be a part of it. They headed off on their way to California by boat, but they stopped in Nicaragua, where Ford established a beautiful hotel and restaurant.
“However, it wasn’t long before tensions rose. In a study, KUNC stated, “There was a growing desire to reestablish slavery, and the United States and Great Britain fought over control of the land.”
During the battle for the land, the US bombarded the region, demolishing Ford’s hotel. He and his wife chose to return to Chicago not long after to start their lives over.
Ford learned of another gold rush — this time in Colorado – while in Chicago in 1859. When he arrived, he was duped out of a claim to a gold mine by an attorney. As a result, he relocated to Denver and opened a restaurant. He made a lot of money in that business, thus he was successful. Though his most well-known enterprises are Denver’s famed Inter-Ocean Hotel and Breckenridge’s Ford’s Restaurant and Chop House, Ford also created a barbershop that quickly brought in enough money to allow him to add a restaurant.
According to Forbes, the business was taking in over $250 per day at its peak (around $2 million per year in today’s money).
Ford had shifted his focus to politics by 1865. He was furious that Colorado legislators refused to give African Americans the right to vote. He was successful in his opposition to Colorado statehood on the grounds that Black men were denied the right to vote. He went to Washington, D.C. to lobby the United States Senate for the right to vote, and he was the first Black man in the state to serve on a federal grand jury.
Ford’s “race identity didn’t matter because he was delivering income to those other persons who were investing in his operations,” according to KUNC. “At that time, [he] was practically the only African American who was participating in that level of politics,” according to KUNC.
Ford’s career as a barber, hotel manager, restaurateur, and civil rights activist came to an end when he died in 1902. For being a spokesperson for civil rights and for his work to eradicate racial discrimination, his glass picture can be located in Colorado’s House of Representatives.
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