Fannie Mae Duncan is as much a part of the Colorado Springs experience as Pikes Peak, the 300 days of sunshine and Garden of the Gods.
And now, she’s getting the attention she deserves through the Rocky Mountain PBS show, “Colorado Experience: Fannie Mae Duncan.” The show airs statewide on PBS in November, but locals get to see it early at 6 p.m., Oct. 23 at Stargazers Theatre, 10 S. Parkside Drive.
Who was Fannie Mae Duncan? She was the first African-American woman to succeed as an entrepreneur and activist in Colorado Springs. She founded the Cotton Club, an “everybody welcome” hot spot that featured celebrities like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Etta James.
At the time (the 1930s), some people objected to the diversity of people she welcomed to her club. She responded by saying it would be a violation of their civil rights to turn away white customers — and so prevailed. The philosophy of “Everybody Welcome” was born.
Duncan also purchased a 42-room mansion to create accommodations for visiting African-American celebrities, barred from local hotels because of the racial restrictions of the time. Civil rights activist Medgar Evers once praised her for her role in peacefully integrating Colorado Springs.
She served as a role model for young people, paid for college tuition and organized fundraisers for medical research.
Duncan still serves as a role model and an example of the best of Colorado Springs, her community involvement, commitment to diversity and business acumen all reflected in today’s female entrepreneurs.
The Business Journal believes in honoring trailblazing women like Fannie Mae Duncan. This year, we are honoring Jayme McConnellogue, the first female battalion chief for the Colorado Springs Fire Department; Patricia Randle, director of Army Community Service; Kristy Milligan, executive director of Westside Cares; and Kristina Wright, a small business owner.
We are recognizing pioneering women like Susan Edmondson, this year’s Legacy winner, for her active role in creating a vibrant downtown for small businesses and residents alike.
Our city is thriving due in no small part to the efforts of these women — people like Katherine Gaulke, working her own metalworks business; Susan Davies, striving to make sure trails and open space remain part of our culture; community activist Deborah Hendrix; and historian Leah Witherow.
All these women, and countless more like them, are doing their part to make southern Colorado a great place to live, work and play. We are honored to share their stories with you during our Women of Influence event Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m.
Join us, and catch the premier of Fannie Mae Duncan’s story, as we honor remarkable women in our past and present.