“As a child, Olivell Owens wondered about the water under the “whites only ” sign. Did it taste different than what flowed from the fountains where she and other African-Americans were supposed to drink in her hometown of Conway, Arkansas? She crossed the color line for a sip.
Her fearlessness didn’t end there. When a white boy taunted Owens with a racist slur one day, she didn’t hesitate to slap him.
Her mother, convinced Owens’s bravery would get her killed, decided to move the family out of the south, first to Iowa before eventually settling in Colorado.
It was in Denver in the 1940s when Owens, then a teenager, met Dr. Justina Ford. After relating her stories of Arkansas to Ford, Owens recalls the doctor sharing her experiences of practicing medicine in Denver even though racism kept her out of the Colorado Medical Society and Denver General Hospital, now Denver Health, barred black patients and physicians.
Ford, Denver’s first licensed black woman doctor, never sounded bitter or sorry for herself, Owens recalls. “She just told me how life is. It was like, ‘If I made it, you can make it.’””
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Bryson, Donna. Denverite 19 February 2020.