Boulder is an extraordinary city, and as such, has produced and/or attracted plenty of extraordinary people. Penfield Tate is one of the most distinguished. If you’re one of us rare Boulder birds who have been here since the ‘70s, you’ll know that Tate was our first African-American mayor. But that’s not all he’s done:
Tate started out in law, having continued his study of law beyond his pre-law degree (from Kent State, in ‘52) while serving in the Army as an artillery officer. After receiving his law degree (from CU Law school, in 1968), he worked as a labor relations specialist and in human resources. Even this early in his career, he was already focused on equal opportunity law in the workplace.
He continued his law career by establishing himself in private practice in the early ‘70s, again focusing on employment issues, government law, and especially those issues related to civil rights discrimination.
As a longtime political activist, Tate was elected to Boulder city council in 1971–the first African-American to serve there. Not long after, he was elected our first African-American mayor. He was a vigorous ally to the LGBT community, in a time when related issues weren’t commonly considered within the fights against discrimination and for civil rights.
- Post-political career, Tate continued to remain active in civics, including serving on the board of directors for the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, from which was placed a memorial plaque at Coors Field.
- Tate’s deputy mayor, Karen Paget, was the youngest council member when she was elected.
- He always wore beads, even when in business attire.
- The Sexual Preference amendment to the Human Rights ordinance banned any employer from firing or refusing to hire an otherwise qualified person based on homosexuality. Tate introduced this amendment to the ordinance, and was a vocal advocate of it. Even though the ordinance with its amendment was initially passed by city council, the citizens of 1974 were not ready for this cutting-edge idea. Tate received hate mail and death threats, and, after the amendment was defeated by vote, Tate was not considered for re-election, amid a large recall controversy among those responsible for the amendment. Penfield Tate’s beliefs that all Boulder citizens had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was unfortunately just a few years before its time.