The citizens of Colorado elected their first African American legislator in 1894, eighteen years after gaining statehood in 1876. The man they elected, Joseph H. Stuart, came to the United States from the British West Indies where he had been born in 1854. He studied at Cedar Hall Academy in South Carolina and records show that he also graduated from Codrington College in Barbados and taught school in South Carolina. The exact dates of his graduation and teaching tenure are not clear. He went on to study law, received his degree in 1877, and opened a law practice in Topeka, Kansas in 1879.
Like so many others before him, ill health brought him to Denver, Colorado. He promptly applied for admission to the Colorado Bar Association, which admitted him on December 1, 1891. He opened his law office in downtown Denver’s Kittredge Building.
Denver’s politically active black community nominated him as a legislative candidate in both 1894 and 1906 but he served only the one two-year term from 1895 – 1897. During his legislative tenure Stuart sponsored a bill designed to end housing discrimination and other forms of racial intolerance. The measure passed, but housing remained closed to African Americans except in certain areas until the 1960s, when Denver civil rights activists forced the issue and opened housing doors across the city. Stuart died in April 1910 and is buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.