Historical Marker in Denver Memorializes Racial Terror Lynching of 15-Year-Old Boy


Barry Ollman

On November 21, the Colorado Lynching Memorial Project coalition unveiled a historical marker in remembrance of Preston John Porter Jr., a Black 15-year-old who was killed by a white mob in a public spectacle lynching on November 16, 1900.

The coalition worked in partnership with EJI and Denver city officials to install the marker at the site of the old jail in Denver where Preston Porter Jr. was held before he was transferred to Limon, Colorado, where a mob was waiting to kidnap and murder him.

The coalition unveiled and dedicated the marker in a virtual ceremony that included remarks from coalition members and faith and civic leaders, music and poetry by local artists, and reflections on the life and death of young Preston Porter Jr. They are encouraging community members to safely visit the marker in downtown Denver.

Watch the marker dedication ceremony

The Lynching of Preston Porter Jr.

On November 16, 1900, a white mob abducted 15-year-old Preston Porter Jr. and lynched him near Limon in Lincoln County, Colorado. At least 300 people attended the public spectacle lynching.

Preston Porter Jr. came to Colorado from Kansas in 1900 and worked in Limon on railroad construction along with his father and brother. On November 11, the three Porters were in Denver on their way home to Kansas when they were stopped by police and questioned about the murder of Louise Frost, a white girl who had been found near Limon on November 8 and later died at home. The Porters denied any involvement, but they were arrested and jailed at the Denver City Hall.

Police used coercive tactics to interrogate Preston, including torturing him in a sweatbox and threatening to lynch his family if he did not confess. After he reportedly “confessed” on November 14, public calls for his lynching followed. Denver officials nonetheless decided to transfer Preston to Lincoln County by train. When the train reached Lake Station, just past Limon, a white mob seized Preston from the train.

The mob waited hours for spectators to gather. They then chained the 105-pound child to a railroad stake and burned him to death. No one was held accountable for the horrific murder of Preston Porter Jr.

Colorado Lynching Memorial Project Coalition

The Colorado Lynching Memorial Project began with the formation of a coalition of community members, faith and civic leaders, and advocates from Denver and Limon who sought to preserve the memory of Preston John Porter Jr. and other African American victims of racial terror lynching in Colorado.

On November 5, 2018, the coalition successfully worked with Denver officials to have a proclamation signed and publicly read in remembrance of Preston Porter Jr. and nearly 90 community members gathered in Limon on November 17 for a soil collection event in his memory.

The coalition is continuing to plan for new advocacy, educational, and outreach opportunities as a nonprofit community-based effort to promote racial justice and racial reconciliation in Colorado by documenting the history of racial terror lynching, advocating for full acknowledgment of these murders, and ensuring that those whose lives were taken are remembered with honor and dignity.

Lynching in America

In Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America, EJI has documented nearly 6,500 racial terror lynchings in America between 1865 and 1950. Thousands more Black people have been killed by white mob lynchings whose deaths may never be discovered. The lynching of African Americans was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate Black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation.

Lynching was most prevalent in the South, but EJI has documented racial terrorism beyond the South, detailing more than 300 lynchings of Black people in eight states in the Midwest and the Upper South, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland, Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.

Lynching became the most public and notorious form of terror and subordination. White mobs were usually permitted to engage in racial terror and brutal violence with impunity. Like Preston Porter Jr., many Black people were pulled out of jails or given over to mobs by law enforcement officials who were legally required to protect them. Terror lynchings often included burning and mutilation, sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands.

In response to this racial terror and violence, millions of Black people fled the South and could never return, which deepened the anguish and pain of lynching. Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known.

EJI’s Community Remembrance Project

EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is part of our campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites, erecting historical markers, and developing the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which acknowledges the horrors of racial injustice.

As part of its effort to help towns, cities, and states confront and recover from tragic histories of racial violence and terrorism, EJI is joining with communities to install historical markers in communities where the history of lynching is documented.

We believe that understanding the era of racial terror is critical if we are to confront its legacies in the challenges that we currently face from mass incarceration, excessive punishment, unjustified police violence, and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color today.