Meet “Aunt Clara” Brown, one of the greatest Americans you may have never heard of.

Born into slavery, Clara endured a life of forced servitude until age 53. After plantation owner George Brown freed her in his will, she followed opportunity and traveled West. With few funds, she bartered with an expedition of miners to allow her to accompany them in exchange for her work as a washerwoman and cook. Because of her race, however, she was not permitted to ride in the wagons with the rest of the travelers – so she walked alongside the wagons, from St. Louis to Denver.

Once she arrived in the West, she used her limited funds to start her own laundry business. She saw opportunity in the absence of women during the Gold Rush, and built a small empire out of her housekeeping skills. She converted those profits into real estate ventures, and those profits into acquiring stakes in mines. In a short time, her incredible financial acumen and peerless work ethic amassed Clara Brown a small fortune.

What’s even more impressive than the fortune she was able to build was how she used it. Clara Brown earned the moniker “the Angel of the Rockies” because of her incredible service to the community. She poured her treasure into the building of several Denver and Central City churches, paid to educate former slave children at Oberlin College, and helped to transport many other freed slaves East to Colorado for a new start.

Thomas Noel, professor of history at the University of Colorado, Denver, sums up Clara Brown:

Few came to Colorado with less and gave more to the state and its people. Despite everything that happened in her life, she faced down adversity and racial prejudice with her faith in humanity and her God.

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