The accolades for Charles R. Cousins have cascaded
throughout Denver and beyond. A resourceful, disciplined, ingenious and
eclectic individual, “Brother” Cousins, as he came to be known, traveled along
an uncharted path and his achievements abounded: real estate investor, club
owner, entrepreneur, sports aficionado, mentor to youth, philanthropist, world
traveler and, lastly, a pillar of the African-American community.
His long and bountiful life parallels and is organically
linked to the general growth of Denver’s African-African community and
specifically the Five Points area. To
walk along the Welton Street corridor – the heart of Five Points – is to walk
with Charles Cousins.
The Black American West Museum is located at the northern
rim of Five Points at 30th and California St. The building formerly belonged to Dr. Justina Ford, Denver’s first
African-American woman physician. Cousins was not born in the house, but Dr. Ford did deliver him at his
family’s home. On January 2, 1918, Dr.
Ford, a local history maker, brought into the world a baby destined to become
another local history maker.
By the time Cousins passed away 91 years later, on May 4,
2009, his legacy was duly noted at the other extreme end of Five Points. The
southern plaza of the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library bears
his name. Inside his portrait hangs in
the lobby, and the third floor gallery and museum has been renamed for Charles
and Dorothy Cousins.
Former City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth submitted the
proposal to name the plaza for the Cousins. “Mr. Cousins and his family have
made so many contributions to the Five Points community, and I thought it was
important to designate the plaza in his honor,” she said.
Throughout his lifetime, Cousins received approximately
two dozen awards and honors from churches, educational institutions, businesses,
community and civic groups, professional and athletic organizations, a major
city agency and former Mayor Wellington Webb and First Lady Wilma Webb. The current Mayor, John Hickenlooper, spoke
at his funeral service.
Charles “Brother” Cousins had humble beginnings; yet he
had what his daughter, Dr. Renee Cousins, calls “an extraordinary journey
through a long and fulfilling life.”
The Moral and Hard-Working Family
He always emphasized the positive influence of his
parents on his personal development. His
father, Charles L. Cousins, was born in Virginia and moved to Atchison, Kansas
when he was an infant. He married Alta Craig and the union lasted 60 years.
There were six children, the first four being girls. When Charles was born, they called him “Brother,”
a denomination which stuck. Their youngest child was also a boy, Craig.
In 1909 they moved to Denver and elder Cousins began work
with the Pullman railroad company, remaining there for 33 years until his
retirement. However, he did pursue other interests. He engaged in a variety of
construction activities and acquired property. While still in Kansas, he
purchased a house at 18 years of age. He sold it when he moved to Denver and
purchased a new one.
“When Papa Cousins wasn’t working on the railroad, he
sometimes spent time at construction sites watching buildings going up,” said
Dr. Renee Cousins, referring to her grandfather. “And other time he made and
constructed things himself,” she continued. In his home, Brother Cousins kept a chess table and brass foot stool
both constructed by his father many years ago.
“Papa Cousins worked all the time, and seldom seemed to
have down time,” she said. “This was the model that my father had. They were both energetic and driven
individuals.” She said her father involved all his children in his activities.
“My aunts used to tell stories about carrying buckets of cement for my
grandfather,” she quipped humorously.
The elder Cousins also saved his money and began buying
property,” said John Mosley, a lifelong friend of Brother Cousins. And he went beyond houses. In 1931 he built The Arcade in the Five
Points area. It was comprised of a beauty shop, a barber shop, a shoeshine
stand and a drugstore.
Mosley said that kids in the neighborhood, including
Brother Cousins, engaged in moneymaking activities, such as gathering night
crawlers in City Park and selling them to fishermen. “And we caught
crawdads. We also sold lemonade at the
trolley stops in Five Points and northeast Denver,” he continued.
Mosley also said that Brother Cousins worked as a delivery
boy for a drug store, using his bicycle. He also entered several cycling
championships and continued to ride most of his life.
At Manual High School Cousins participated on the
wrestling team. It was also at Manual where he perceived a need for music at
some school social activities. He rigged up a sound system and began charging
money for making music available.
After high school graduation he enrolled in a
pre-veterinary science program at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“There were only seven Black students and we had to live in a house
off-campus,” said Mosley who was also enrolled in the course of study.
While there, Cousins restarted his business of providing
music for campus social activities. However, he decided to quit school. “There
were a number of obstacles for Black students in the program,” said Mosley.
“And Charles was certain that he could make just as much money doing other
Mosley joined the Air Force during World War II and
became one of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
He took a job with the railroad company and later joined
the Fire Department, joining the all-Black crew at the historic Fire Station
Number 3 in the Five Points area. He also engaged in other money making
activities, such as spraying Christmas trees, and he expanded his music venture
into placing jukeboxes in restaurants and bars. In addition, he saved his money and in 1946 became co-owner of the 715
Club on 26th St., right off Welton St. in Five Points. It was his first
business and it thrived for many years.
The next year he married Dorothy Caldwell and they shared
53 years together before her death a few years ago. She worked with him in his
businesses. Renee Cousins, a pediatrician, is their only child. Cousins continued
to buy property and engaged in other businesses such as a car wash and a cookie
Brother and Dorothy Cousins were known for their lavish
outside Christmas decorations of their homes on York Street and later on 26th
Avenue. During the holidays their home was featured in several local
newspapers. One year they used 500 bulbs
and another year 1,000 bulbs. And he
liked to dress up as Santa.
He was very involved in sports, such as golf and later
cross-country skiing. However, he also had a passion for assisting with other
athletic activities. In addition to attending sports events at his alma mater,
Manual High School, he set up athletic scholarships for the students and was
available to help teams with some of their endeavors. He also helped the sports
teams at Colorado State University. He was the first African-American to work
with the Colorado Boxing Commission, and at one time was Deputy Boxing
Cousins attended both the Winter and Summer Olympics from
Rome in 1960 to Salt Lake City in 2002. And he insisted on getting to know the athletes. Spectators are not
allowed to enter residential spaces of athletes. However, Brother Cousins found
“He had a stately presence and people assumed that he was
someone who had a right to enter the athletes’ quarters,” said Ike Kelly, a
friend who often traveled with Cousins. “He was not satisfied just being a
spectator, so he found a way to get to talk to the athletes and team
associates,” he continued. Kelly often
accompanied Cousins and his wife on golfing trips to Hawaii and other venues
around the world.
A member of Zion Baptist Church since 1925, Cousins was
the oldest congregant at the time of his death. Without fanfare, he made financial contributions to a wide range of institutions
Cousins lived an active and full life. “He had a zest for
life,” said Renee Cousins.
Carl Bourgeois, a real estate developer in Five Points, has
great admiration for Charles “Brother” Cousins. Bourgeois points out that Cousins began investing in real estate during
the period of segregation.
“Instead of frustration and defeat, he worked on the
positive side and was able to accomplish many things,” he said. “He used
obstacles as inspiration,” he continued. “We need to encourage that kind of
attitude today. There are still obstacles for African-Americans, they are just
more subtle.” Bourgeois said that Cousins’ attitude seemed to say, “If America
is not working for us, then we’ll have to take another road and find a way to
make it work for us.”