This is the legendary tale of O.T. Jackson and the Colorado Black ghost town of Dearfield.
O.T. Jackson was born in Oxford, Ohio in 1862. His parents Hezekiah and Virginia Caroline Jackson were former slaves from Virginia who managed to escape the clutches of the Jim Crow South. Although not much is known about O.T.’s parents, who they named their son after says everything you need to know about them.
O.T. was named after the great Haitian general François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture.
Louverture was one of the most prominent and important leaders of the Haitian Revolution in 1791. The former slave helped lead the Haitian enslaved majority in rebel victories over the planter class and thousands of invading French troops. He was also able, through diplomacy, to keep Spain and England from invading the already ravished nation. Louverture was eventually able to conquer the Spanish side of Hispaniola, uniting the entire island and naming himself the governor, creating the world’s first sovereign Black state.
Little did O.T.’s parents know, but naming their son after the Haitian general would guide him for his entire being. Like Toussaint, O.T Jackson was a trailblazer and a pioneer who wanted more for his people. He was also so much more. And as he grew into adulthood so did his legend.
In 1882 the 20-year-old Jackson moved to Cleveland where he worked as a waiter and also wrote for the Cleveland Gazette which was at once one of the longest-running Black papers in the United States.
Even though his parents gave him a forever idol who lived within his name, Jackson yearned to find his own–insert one Booker T. Washington. Washington had just founded the famous Tuskegee Institute and his teachings were very intriguing to Jackson but polarizing to some.
In the late 19th century, Black America was at a crossroads intellectually. Some Blacks believed and followed the teachings of W.E.B Du Bois, and others followed Booker T. Washington. Both were two of the most influential Black men in American history. They each wanted and worked for civil rights for Blacks in America, but had two totally different approaches. (Similar to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.)
Washington promoted self-help and racial solidarity. He believed if Blacks looked to elevate themselves, whites would have no choice but to accept and respect them.
Du Bois on the other hand advocated for political action and social change. He believed Washington’s strategy would only make white oppression worse.
But O.T. Jackson saw things more like Booker T. Washington. He saw true freedom in wealth building and ownership. For Blacks, there was nothing more dangerous than living in a white world. Records show forty-nine Black Americans were known to have been lynched in 1882. (There were probably hundreds more never reported.) Jackson believed Blacks needed their own community away from the despair and racism.
The Tuskegee Institute was a testament to what a motivated Black mind could create and Jackson knew he needed to find a way.
In 1887, the 25-year-old Jackson moved to Denver, Colorado, then later Boulder, where he honed in on his instinct for entrepreneurship.
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