Oliver Bell used to tell stories of growing up in Colorado Springs, when the city was segregated and blacks, like him, lived a parallel life to the whites in the city.
He used to tell how, during his childhood in the 1930s and ‘40s, blacks could swim in public pools only one day a week — the day before they were cleaned. He told a lot of stories, many of them humorous, about his experiences as a shoeshine boy, a boxer, a star athlete and more.
Those stories form the basis of a class being taught Tuesday by Lucy Bell, who was married to Oliver for 29 years until his death in 2002. It’s a class sponsored by Pillar, the non-profit group that offers adult enrichment classes.
Lucy will use the stories to help illustrate her topic: “The Black Community of Colorado Springs: 1869-1949.”
The class is not just about Ollie, as Lucy calls him. She will delve into the history of what brought blacks to the Pikes Peak region, the region’s three earliest black churches, how change slowly came and more.
Using interviews and conversations and her own research, Lucy, a retired teacher and writer, will tell how the Ku Klux Klan almost took over the Colorado Springs City Council and school board in the 1920’s.
She’ll tell about sit-ins at lunch counters and theaters in the 1940’s and local connections to famous black scholars and leaders W.E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington.
Lucy is also hoping to learn a few things herself. She wants to hear stories from others who, like Ollie, experienced life in a segregated Colorado Springs.
“I want to tell the story of growing up black in Colorado Springs,” said Lucy, 71. “I’m building on Ollie’s stories. I want to give a picture of what life was like.”
For that she needs help of the community.
“So many stories have not been told and these people are dying,” she said. “I want to get their stories down.”
Eventually, she might turn the stories into a book, like the one she’s writing about her life with Ollie. Its title is “Mosaic in Black and White” and it will tell of their life as an interracial couple.
But that’s another story for another class.
On Tuesday, folks will hear some of Ollie’s favorite stories, such as “Yokum in the Dark” as Lucy titled it. Yokum was a spooky game Ollie and his friends played in the basement of Leroy Kirven’s Green Parrot shoeshine shop on Pikes Peak Avenue downtown in the 1940’s.
And they’ll hear his stories “St. Francis Ghosts” and “The Hideout.” (You’ll need to attend to find out what they are about!)
A few seats remain for her class and anyone interested in attending should call Pillar at 633-4991 for reservations.
And if you miss the class, perhaps you’ll be able to catch the stories later, in a book.
“Once the class is over I’ll be pursuing these stories,” Lucy said. “It may turn into a book. That’s part of my motivation in doing a class.”