Joseph H.P. Westbrook was a prominent Black doctor in Denver who invested heavily in the Five Points region of the Colorado city. Dr. Westbrook was also well-known for years of going undercover as a white man to infiltrate a local Ku Klux Klan chapter.
Westbrook was born in Hernando, Miss. in 1878. The Fisk College and Meharry Medical College graduate moved west to Denver and began a practice that ran for over three decades along with opening a pharmacy. Westbrook, like many Black people at the time, was a Republican who grew tired of the party and became an active Democrat before crossing party lines once more.
With the Five Points region slowly developing and expanding, the signs of resistance began sprouting up. Although Black and White residents in Denver mostly got along, the growth of areas like the Black farming of Dearfield, which Westbrook named, still drew concern from their white neighbors. The appearance of the Ku Klux Klan in the area alarmed many, which made Westbrook spring into action.
For several years, Westbrook, a man of fair skin, passed for white and listened in on the Klan’s meetings. He told few of his plan but some historians say he did so to warn other Black residents in town of the Klan’s upcoming plans and targets. Also as a member of Sigma Phi Pi, the oldest Black Greek fraternity, it was suggested by some he relayed what he learned at the Klan meetings to his frat brothers in Denver.
Black American West Museum historian Terri Gentry shared in a report earlier this year that the stress of going undercover with the Klan literally took years from Westbrook’s life. During a church meeting in 1939, Westbrook took a seat, then died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 61 years old.
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