Toussaint Jackson Oliver When he created Dearfield in the high plains of Colorado, had a dream: to build a self-sustaining village free of racism for Black people and their children. Jackson was able to persuade Black families in Denver, where the majority of the state’s Black population lived, to migrate to Dearfield in the 1910s, at a period when Black families found it difficult to buy land in Denver regions.
Dearfield quickly grew into a successful farming hamlet with a few hundred Black residents. Dearfield is now a ghost town. Unfortunately, what was once one of Colorado’s most prosperous all-Black communities is now little more than a few abandoned wooden houses and a plaque.
Professor George Junne of the University of Northern Colorado, who has done numerous studies on the town, was quoted by USA Now as saying, “It’s impossible to look around today and see that fertile agriculture when you’re kicking cactus and sagebrush.” “At the time, Dearfield was the most well-known black farming community in the United States,” he explained.
Jackson was named after Haitian Revolution General François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture and was born in Ohio in 1862 to former slaves. Like Louverture, who led one of the most important independence wars and whose purpose was to free the slaves and people of Saint Domingue, now Haiti, Jackson’s mission was to free his fellow African-Americans from poverty and hardship so that they might take charge of their own fate.
He went to Colorado with his wife in 1887 from Ohio, where he was born, and worked for a newspaper before becoming an entrepreneur, operating a restaurant and hotel. In 1910, he founded Dearfield, inspired by Booker T. Washington’s works, particularly his 1901 memoir “Up From Slavery.” According to a PBS story, Washington, who was born a slave, preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity, and conciliation.
“For the time being, he counseled blacks to accept discrimination and focus on improving themselves through hard labor and financial wealth…
This, he said, would earn whites’ esteem and lead to African Americans’ complete acceptance as citizens and integration into all aspects of life,” according to the study.
Jackson planned to construct an agricultural village for Black people to thrive based on this concept. But he required political clout to secure the resources he needed. As a result, he began working as a messenger in the governor’s office of Colorado. According to historians, he persuaded the governor to assist him in filing a claim under the Homestead Act of 1909 on 320 acres of arid terrain in Weld County, Colorado. And it was there that he erected Dearfield.
The federal government was encouraging people to move to the plains at the time. On the plains, a slew of Black settlements arose out of nowhere. The first Black families who migrated to Dearfield had a difficult time, as harsh winter circumstances nearly killed them in their first year. But they persisted, first creating dwellings out of mud while working the land and refuge in abandoned caves during bad weather.
As World War I began, things began to improve for Jackson and the Black residents of Dearfield. Dearfield, as an agricultural hamlet, was able to meet the growing demand for crops such as potatoes, corn, and barley. The Black community grew rapidly. More structures were constructed. Women and children labored on the farms, while men worked as porters, chefs, messengers, and janitors in Denver.
Dearfield had roughly 30 Black families and a population of almost 700 persons in 1915. A school, two churches, a gas station, a boarding house, a restaurant, a grocery shop, a concrete block factory, a baseball team, and a dance hall were all located there. Jackson’s advertisements in Colorado newspapers helped the town, particularly its dance hall, draw a large number of Black people from Denver. It evolved as a hub for Black entertainment.
Dearfield’s success, however, was short-lived due to a number of causes. Farmers in the community were harmed by low agricultural product prices following the conflict. The town was also driven to its knees by the harsh drought of the 1930s and the Great Depression. By 1940, only 12 individuals remained in Dearfield. Jackson died in 1948, but not before doing everything he could to help his neighborhood.
“Dearfield is the place!” proclaims a Jackson ad promoting the town from 1931. “On the Lincoln Highway 38, about 70 miles east of Denver, this small village is the excellent setting for a summer outing. You can call Weldona 68-R-5 ahead of time to request dinner, and it will be ready when you arrive.”
Apart from the plaque commemorating the town and the few wooden dwellings, the Dearfield Lodge, also known as the Jackson Family House, was built in 1917 and is now largely restored. People and groups are also working to preserve and repair the ghost town’s ruins.
Dearfield was successfully nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 by the Black American West Museum, which now owns the land and buildings.