Time Machine Tuesday: Anti-Discrimination Laws

Most Coloradans are aware that we have laws in our state that prohibit discrimination in places of public accommodation.  But did you know that it was 100 years ago when our state first passed such a law?

Back in 1917, the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senator Herman Kluge of Palisade and Representative Clement Crowley of Denver.  That year, as the Great War raged, discrimination against Americans of German ancestry was bitter and widespread.  Also during this time, the Ku Klux Klan was making a resurgence, with a Klan organization having been founded in Denver in 1915.  These conditions were likely the impetus for the 1917 law, which declared it unlawful for any places of public accommodation to distribute communications that discriminated against “any religious sect, creed, denomination, or nationality, or against any of the members thereof.”

Unlike the current statute, C.R.S. 24-34-601, which defines places of public accommodation as

any place of business engaged in any sales to the public and any place offering services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to the public, including but not limited to any business offering wholesale or retail sales to the public; any place to eat, drink, sleep, or rest, or any combination thereof; any sporting or recreational area and facility; any public transportation facility; a barber shop, bathhouse, swimming pool, bath, steam or massage parlor, gymnasium, or other establishment conducted to serve the health, appearance, or physical condition of a person; a campsite or trailer camp; a dispensary, clinic, hospital, convalescent home, or other institution for the sick, ailing, aged, or infirm; a mortuary, undertaking parlor, or cemetery; an educational institution; or any public building, park, arena, theater, hall, auditorium, museum, library, exhibit, or public facility of any kind whether indoor or outdoor

the 1917 statute did not include retail businesses.  Instead, places of public accommodation in the 1917 statute were defined as inns, hotels, taverns, restaurants, public transportation, bath houses, barber shops, theaters, and music halls.  Obviously, with the rise of the Klan in the 1920s and the continued civil rights struggles of the next several decades, this law in and of itself had little effect; yet it was a single step toward the acknowledgement of a diverse and multi-ethnic Colorado.  With the exception of a 1933 law prohibiting discrimination in public employment based on religious belief, it was not until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s and ’70s that further anti-discrimination laws were passed in Colorado.