charles l. cousins & charles r. cousins
Charles L. Cousins was born in Virginia in 1881 and moved as a young child with his family to Kansas. His formal education ended after sixth grade, when he and his brother had to work out of economic necessity.
In 1909, Charles moved to Denver where he worked on the Union Pacific Railroad. At that time the most prestigious and profitable employment a gentleman of African American descent could get was that of a dining car waiter. However, his intellectual gifts, ambition, and unparalleled work ethic carried him far. Charles was known as a hard worker, as was his wife, Alta. Because of sacrifices they made together, Charles was able to purchase building materials to erect homes and buy pre-existing buildings, thereby laying the foundation of ownership he could pass along to his children. One of these buildings was named The Arcade located in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. It has now remained in the family for three generations. Charles’ granddaughter Dr. Renee Cousins King inherited the property in 2009, renovating it to include residential units on the second floor and Rosenberg’s Bagels on the first floor.
In addition to passing on these buildings to his children, Charles passed along lessons of integrity, work ethic, and discipline to his six children.
His son, Charles R. Cousins (called Charlie), began his business career while still a student attending Manual High School in 1936, providing music for the school dances of African American students who were segregated from those of white students. He did the same as a student at Colorado State University, beginning his long career in the jukebox industry.
When white-owned jukebox businesses tried to take over the restaurants and bars where his machines were located, Charlie purchased the buildings, beginning his successful career in real estate. He opened a tavern in Five Points, started a cookie franchise, and managed vending machines and a car wash. Charlie was a true entrepreneur.
Charlie married “his ideal partner,” Dorothy Elizabeth Caldwell, in 1947. Her intellectual acuity and practicality were key to their success. Charlie owned property throughout the metro area but was particularly well known in the Five Points neighborhood, where he owned 30 buildings. He was a leading figure in the city’s African American community, and many area residents depended on his generosity. He provided low-cost apartments to many people who didn’t have the resources. He also wrote off the rent for many others who couldn’t afford to pay.
In 1979, Charlie was appointed to the Denver City Zoning Board, where he served for 23 years. A strong advocate for education, he helped develop Cole Junior High School’s alternative education for students who were not able to learn and achieve in a traditional school environment. As a lifetime jazz fan, Charlie is also credited with being a key financial backer of the Five Points neighborhood jazz scene. Known as the “Godfather of Jazz” in Five Points, he made the famous Rossonian Hotel a must-stop venue for African American musicians who were barred from other hotels because of racial discrimination.