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Growing Up in Denver, Colorado (1915 – 1932)

Howard Jenkins, Jr.‘s parents were Missouri natives. His father was a mail carrier who graduated from Lincoln University in Missouri. His mother, Nellie Poage, finished college in Illinois. They were temporarily separated by their jobs when Nellie Poage taught in St. Louis, Missouri and Howard taught at an Indian school in Muskogee, Oklahoma. After graduation they decided to marry in 1910 and moved to Denver, Colorado. Howard, Jr. was born June 16, 1915 in East Denver, at the family home — 2746 Williams Street. Howard, Jr. attended Whittier Elementary School until third grade. When his family moved to 3131 Gilpin Street, he attended Mariah Mitchell Elementary School.

Howard was the only African American child at Mariah Mitchell Elementary School. He was a good singer and joined the boy’s choir. When the choir was to perform an operetta, try-outs were held. Howard was chosen for the lead. Practices went well until the first rehearsal. When the script instructed the male and female lead to hold hands. Howard was to hold a Caucasian girl’s hand, and was informed that, as a result he could no longer have the lead. When he told his father what had occurred, Mr. Jenkins went to a PTA meeting at the school and took up the matter of the choir lead with the school’s music teacher. The decision stood. Howard’s father decided that his son would not be participating in choir any longer.

1920

At Cole Junior High there were more African American students, and by the time Howard attended Manual High School there were enough to warrant separate proms for Caucasian and Black students. The separation of proms rankled the African American students, and when Howard entered his senior year they decided to make a point about the prom segregation. Howard and his friends chained the gym doors closed so that the Caucasian prom could not be held. The black students then sat up on a hill across from the gym. The students arrived in their tuxes and long dresses but could not get in. They were disappointed, and Howard and his friends had a quiet laugh. Howard Jenkins, Jr. surmises that the prank probably resulted in his failure to receive a scholarship awarded by the principal, even though Howard was ranked second or third in his graduating class.

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Manual High School
Denver, Colorado

1930

Racial exclusion from elementary and secondary school events increased Howard Jenkins’ awareness of the racial tensions in Colorado. When Howard’s older sister was excluded from swim class because of her race, Howard’s father and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), filed suit against the School Superintendent and the Denver Board of Education. As a result, Manual High School changed its swimming policy so that African Americans were allowed to have swimming instruction.

The Ku Klux Klan dominated Colorado and Denver politics in the 1920’s. It was well known that election results depended on a Klan blessing. Governor Clarence J. Morely (Governor of Colorado from 1925-1927) was known as “the Ku Klux Klan Governor.”

1925

The Jenkins family expected academic excellence and knew outstanding African American leaders. Howard’s uncle, George Poage, was an outstanding track athlete at the University of Wisconsin. He competed in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, winning a Bronze Medal for the 400 meter hurdles. He was the first African American to win a medal in the 1904 Olympics.