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Home of Colorado’s First Black Appellate Judge Being Designated A Historic Landmark

Home of Colorado’s First Black Appellate Judge Being Designated A Historic Landmark

The entire landmark will include 19 homes in total!

The home of Colorado’s first Black appellate judge is being designated as a historic landmark, CPR News reports.

Raymond Jones Sr. is a native of Pueblo, Colorado, eventually attending Colorado College as just one of five Black students enrolled during his freshman year. He went on to attend Harvard Law, earning his degree in 1971 and spending a stint in New York before returning home. While there, one of the first things he decided to do was purchase a new home. 

After being recommended to visit the Congress Park neighborhood in Denver, Jones discovered a house on Steele Street, which according to Historic Denver, was a well-known informal school boundary during the 1960s and 70s that separated whites from other racial groups. During that time, the area was considered off-limits to Black people, who were regularly pushed to relocate in central and northeast neighborhoods. Nonetheless, Jones had his mind made up, settling on a beautiful house with a big yard at 780 Steele St, which he purchased in 1977.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to have that.’ I knew at some point I was going to get married and I was going to have children and they were going to have lots of room to play and be safe,” Jones recalled. 

Photo Courtesy of Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

And that’s exactly what happened. He settled down and had a family, his son, Raymond Jones II recalling fond memories of his childhood home.

“The yard was a huge piece of the house for me. [I practiced baseball on the lawn], literally throwing the ball to yourself and running forever to catch it, or practicing soccer kicks because the yard was so large,” said Jones II.

The family lived in the home for over 40 years, the elder Jones serving 32 of those years as a judge, spending half of his career on the state’s court of appeals. He was the first Black person to hold the title in Colorado, where he wrote more than 1,400 opinions, only three of them getting overturned.  

While Jones loved his profession and the respect that came with it, that respect didn’t often extend to his majority white community. The former police chief, Art Dill, would regularly harass Jones at his home, parking across the street or even driving his cruiser onto the yard, letting Jones know that he wasn’t welcome in the neighborhood. Officers even one time broke into the home, ransacking it and stealing property. During the time, Jones was serving as a clerk for Chief Justice Edward Pringle of the Colorado Supreme Court. It was Pringle who ended up making a call and telling the chief of police to get the car off of Jones' property. 

However, Jones was no stranger to police misconduct, having joined the civil rights protests in Alabama as a sophomore in college. And despite the chief’s warnings, he was making lifelong friends with his neighbors, particularly Howard Kanoll, who still lives on Steele Street today. 

Photo Courtesy of Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Two years ago, longtime residents of Steele Street began campaigning to have the area declared a historic landmark, partnering with Historic Denver, a non-profit urban historic preservation organization. The organization eventually agreed to help, but only after learning of Jones’ story and his role as the first Black appellate judge in Colorado, choosing to make their pitch for historic landmark status focused on him. 

This past December, the Denver City Council voted unanimously in favor of the historical landmark. Included in the designation are the 600 and 700 blocks of Steele Street which include 19 homes, one of them being Judge Raymond Jones home. 

“It was the story of Judge Raymond Jones, and the community that grew up around these blocks, that got us interested,” said Annie Levinsky, executive director for Historic Denver. 

Jones, who is now 76 years old, is battling dementia and Alzheimer’s disease but his son says he’s proud and that having the home declared historic is one way of ensuring his father’s achievements are never forgotten. 

“Communities like this just don’t quite exist as frequently anymore. I take pride in dad and his experiences and the doors that he kicked open for others, whether it be living in a community that’s traditionally white, or the trailblazing he did in the legal community in Colorado. 

Congratulations, Judge Jones! Because of you, we can!

(r to l) Judge Raymond Jones and his son Raymond II. Photo Courtesy of Hart Van Denburg/CPR News