Dallas Burleson stepped up to the lectern and greeted people who had joined the Friendship Baptist Church of Christ Jesus for Sunday services.
She was accompanied on stage by her daughter Stacie Burleson to begin the worship hour with a song. A little later, Pastor Paul Burleson, Dallas’ husband and Stacy’s father, took center stage. The three ended the service on February 14 by singing together, embodying the family bonds on which the Denver Church is based.
The service also included a presentation of Black History Month. At one point, moderator Janay Lewis said, “My mind wandered with one thought: Where would the world be without the Friendship Baptist Church of Jesus Christ? The Church was founded 46 years ago by a young pastor named Pastor Paul Burleson. “
Without Paul Burleson, Lewis said, there would be no Baptist Friendship to affect the church.
Just as an example, as Dallas and Paul Burleson described in a separate conversation, Friendship helped Baptist find shelter in Denver for people displaced from New Orleans and Houston after Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock attended Sunday School classes with Friendship Baptist. Paul Burleson prayed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, where he met former President Barack Obama and now President Joe Biden. Dallas Burleson sang an opening song for an event in Denver with civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy.
However, this eventful journey does not begin with Paul Burleson 46 years ago. It goes back even further, explained the burlesons. On the banks of the South Platte River in Littleton, where George and Dorothy Johnson, Dallas Burleson’s parents, were holding a Bible study. It’s George and Dorothy Johnson, say the burlesons, who deserve credit from the Church and so much more.
Bring Littleton home
The Johnson family moved to Littleton in 1949 when George accepted a job to groom horses for a ranch in town. The family had previously lived in other locations in Colorado, Bailey and Broomfield, and Omaha, Nebraska.
“We enjoyed Littleton. We had such a good time. Everything was right on the ranch. People came to ride, it was exciting, ”said GeorgeAnne Redd, another daughter of George and Dorothy.
There were six Johnson children in total: George Anne, Dallas, Johnny Lee, Robert, George Jr., and Charles. When the Johnsons moved to Littleton, they were the only African American family in town, Redd said.
At the time, most of the African Americans lived in Denver. When the Johnsons occasionally visited town, Redd said, “It was really strange to see all these blacks in one place because all we’d ever seen were Caucasians when we went to school.” They soon met a few black families in Englewood – including Jessie and Lola Holmes and their family.
When Geraldine Holmes, Jessie and Lola’s daughter-in-law, talked about the relationship between the two families, she remembered: “Nobody was a stranger, they were like a family.”
In 1956, after becoming a horse groomer for other people, Johnson opened his own stable, Happy Valley Stables, in Littleton, Redd said. There he housed and trained other people’s horses and also taught riding lessons.
Happy Valley also gave Johnson an opportunity to train as a horse exhibitor, a side gig he would be successful at. From the 1950s onwards, he began showing on the National Western Stock Show. At this point, Redd does not recall seeing other black exhibitors at the Stock Show, which led them to believe he was the first, although Stock Show officials were unable to confirm whether it was after a recent investigation was the case.
Redd remembers seeing other blacks at the show but said they were all snow groomers until the 1970s.
“My dad was the first one I saw who really showed himself,” she said.
Happy Valley wasn’t just a business venture, however. It was a community hub. “Everyone was in the stable at every opportunity, mostly every weekend,” said Geraldine Holmes. The Holmes family and others joined the Johnsons for picnics and horseback riding. During the warmer months, Dorothy Johnson took family and friends to a Bible study on the banks of the South Platte River.
The strong bond between the Johnsons and Holmeses and their commitment to gathering for Bible study would have lasting effects. They met over the years either along the South Platte or in the colder months at the Holmes residence in Englewood.
“A powerful journey”
Paul Burleson moved to Denver in December 1969 after serving in the US Air Force during the Korean War. He had an uncle in Denver who would be attending the Johnson / Holmes Bible study. On his first day in town, Paul Burleson accompanied his uncle to a Bible study. There he met Dallas and they hit it off right away.
“I didn’t even know anything about her except that I was attracted to her and the Lord in my mind said, ‘This is your wife,'” recalled Paul Burleson.
When the two met, Paul Burleson became the director of the Bible study. At that time he was studying ministry in Denver. In 1974 the group officially founded the church in the Holmeses’ basement and appointed Burleson pastor. Redd had the honor of naming the church. “Because of the friendship we had with the Holmeses … I called it Friendship Baptist Church and it was accepted,” Redd said.
The Church met in the Holmeses’ home for four years before moving into a school building in Englewood. Then in 1984 they moved to an old Denver house on Holly Street. In 1990, Friendship Baptist realized there was a need to upgrade their space when Bear Valley Church in Lakewood approached them. Bear Valley offered its old church building if Friendship Baptist could literally move the building to Holly Street, the burlesons described.
Little by little, Friendship Baptist moved the building to Holly Street to replace the house there. Later, in 2000, Friendship Baptist moved one last time to where it is currently located on Fairfax Street in Denver.
During this time, the burlesons became more active in the community. Paul was president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance and was involved with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Meanwhile, Dallas became better known for her singing and songwriting. She performed at concerts under the heading of great gospel artists and wrote original songs by musicians. She recently wrote and published her first children’s book, The Adventures of Fanny Faithful.
“It’s been such a powerful journey,” said Dallas Burleson. “In the good, in the bad. There was the ugly … But there was so much joy. “
As with the other Johnson children, Redd is currently in charge of administration at Friendship Baptist after a career in real estate. Robert Johnson recently retired from the pastor of his own church. George Jr. and Charles Johnson were musicians and had a band, Mother Pearl, which performed in Littleton and Denver. Charles Johnson was also a Vietnam veteran and received the Purple Heart, Redd said.
Today, Redd, Dallas Burleson, and Robert Johnson are the only living members of the original eight in the Johnson family. However, memories of the family’s collective memory can be found everywhere, such as a horse galloping on television or a service at Friendship Baptist.
“The bottom line was that we were standing on the shoulders of Dallas’ mother and father George Johnson and Miss Dorothy Johnson,” said Paul Burleson. “So we want to make sure that we don’t forget them as fearless pioneers and tireless trailblazers.”