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Celebrating the legacy of Lincoln Hills resort

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

During the Jim Crow era, the Lincoln Hills resort, tucked away in the Rockies about an hour's drive west of Denver, was an outdoor leisure destination that catered to African Americans excluded elsewhere. Two businessmen developed it in the 1920s as an oasis where Black families could hike, fish, camp and enjoy the outdoors. And this year, it turns 100 years old. To talk about its legacy, we're joined by Gary Jackson, a retired Denver judge who owns a cabin at Lincoln Hills. Welcome.

GARY JACKSON: Well, thank you very much.

RASCOE: So you have family connections to this place that go way back. Your cabin has been in your family since 1926.

JACKSON: Well, it was built by my great-grandfather. He was the son of a slave master and an enslaved woman in Missouri. He learned to read and write, although he had no formal education. He also learned the trade of carpentry. And so that's what he did in Missouri. But in 1919, he came to Colorado. The opportunities in Colorado were better for a Black man in Colorado than there - than it was in the very segregated and sometimes violent Missouri. He ended up buying several lots in Lincoln Hills.

RASCOE: The striking thing about this is that around the time that Lincoln Hills was founded, the Ku Klux Klan had a very strong presence in Colorado, including in government positions. How was Lincoln Hills allowed to exist?

JACKSON: Well, that was - that's really what demonstrates the courage of Black people. In Denver, there were 17,000 registered Klansmen, including the mayor of Denver, Ben Stapleton. We had a U.S. senator that was a Klansman. There was a governor that was a Klansman. That is the historical significance of Lincoln Hills, that despite the influence of the KKK throughout Colorado, there was a particular county, Gilpin County in Colorado, where the majority of the people in Gilpin County welcomed Black people. And during the summer, there could be as many as 5,000 Black travelers.

RASCOE: Lincoln Hills has also had this educational mission. You help out with that, right?

JACKSON: Yeah, I have taken part in it. I became a member of what was called the James Beckwourth Mountain Club. That was a Black and urban mountain group where we would bring up Black children and show them about wilderness life.

RASCOE: Is Lincoln Hill still a destination for Black tourists today?

JACKSON: Well, it is. There are approximately seven Black families that still own their cabins in Lincoln Hills, maintaining, restoring and utilizing their cabins on a regular basis. My cabin has been declared an historic building.

RASCOE: What is your fondest memory of Lincoln Hills, of this cabin?

JACKSON: Well, my first memories are probably when I'm, like, 3 or 4 years old, walking down to the creek and skipping rocks. I have memories of, as a teenager, having my own Daisy BB gun and shooting at targets and rocks and chipmunks. As I grew older and matured, I was one of the founders of the Sam Cary Bar Association. We would have retreats where the officers of Sam Cary Bar Association would come to our cabin, and we would talk about what we wanted to do as a bar organization to make better opportunities for Black lawyers and diverse lawyers. So I have 76 years of fond memories of Lincoln Hills.

RASCOE: I would imagine it goes without saying that it's important to preserve and pass down the history and traditions of Lincoln Hills. But why is it so essential to you?

JACKSON: Well, my great-grandfather, the son of the slave master, learned the value of the ownership of property. It is my hope that the cabin that we have today, that we will be able to maintain and enjoy that cabin for another hundred year. This is a part of the American dream that we as Black people have, and that is homeownership.

RASCOE: That's Gary Jackson, cabin owner at the historic Lincoln Hills Resort in Colorado. Thank you so very much.

JACKSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.