The Black Legacy Project will travel to Denver, CO in September 2022, exploring the historic musical and civil rights contributions made by Denver’s Black and White residents. Once known as the “Harlem of the West,” Denver’s “Five Points” neighborhood was the home and hub of iconic Black musicians, philanthropists, and civil rights activists, in spite of Klu Klux Klan’s dominant presence in the state during the early to mid 20th century. The rich local history of Black excellence and interracial solidarity in the midst of white supremacy is what draws the Black LP to Denver.
The curated theme of the Black LP - DENVER is Walking in My Shoes. In the roundtables and musical interpretations, Black and White community members will explore the importance of walking in the shoes of “the other” in order to build bridges across racial divides and stop interracial violence. This project will explore the theme of Walking in My Shoes by examining and reinterpreting the songs “The Klan,” and “The Ballad of the Walking Postman,” both made famous by Walt Conley, a Black man who is considered the founding father of the Denver folk scene.
“The Klan” is a chilling folk song Conley sang on his first full-length album Passin’ Thru with Walt Conley. The song was originally written in the 1950s by folk singer-songwriter and actor, Alan Arkin, who Conley roomed with at the San Cristobal Valley Ranch in New Mexico when he was first introduced to folk music and met iconic folk artists like Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, and Earl Robinson. The song is an eerie description of a Klan rally and heart-wrenching expression of the terror and grief that white supremacist violence inflicts upon Black Americans.
“The Ballad of the Walking Postman” is a ballad sung by Conley to honor the life of Civil Rights activist and martyr, William Lewis Moore. A white postman and member of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) raised in Mississippi, Moore was assassinated during his one-man march from Chattanooga to Jackson, MS, to deliver his plea for racial tolerance to the governor of Mississippi. Inspired by his act of solidarity, Buck Ram wrote and Conley sang vocals for “The Ballad of the Walking Postman” as a means to honor and carry on Moore’s fight for racial equality.
Both “The Klan” and “The Ballad of the Walking Postman” express in their lyrics and in the story of their creation the importance of cultivating empathy and solidarity across racial lines in order to advance racial equity and wage peace against racial violence. Both songs are collaborations of Black and White artists that put listeners into the shoes of Black and White Americans who suffered the horrors of white supremacy and racial terrorism, and who dream for equality, equity, and belonging for all Americans.
In the spirit of walking in the other’s shoes, local White artists will reinterpret “The Klan”, a song written in the voice of Black Americans who are victims of targeted violence. Similarly, local Black artists will reinterpret “The Ballad of the Walking Postman,” a song which tells the story of a White man in solidarity who was a victim of targeted violence. Upon completion, local Black and White artists will work together to write and record a song that offers actionable steps for building bridges across racial lines and ending targeted racial violence.