Nicki Gonzales gets strong reactions whenever she assigns her students essays on Los Seis de Boulder—the Boulder Six. “First, they’re shocked,” says the Regis University history professor and former Colorado state historian. “They’ll be like, ‘This happened in our state? How come I never heard of this before?’ ” Even more surprising is that the May 1974 car bombings that killed six young leaders of the state’s Chicano Movement—a Mexican American civil rights campaign—remain unsolved 50 years later.

“It was like a tinderbox,” Gonzales says of the atmosphere surrounding the University of Colorado Boulder leading up to the explosions. Earlier that May, protesters had occupied a building on campus after financial aid the school had promised never arrived (administrators blamed lost applications) and funding for a Chicano student group was slashed, measures advocates believed were a direct response to their activism on campus. Los Seis—five of whom were affiliated with the university as students, alumni, or former employees—supported the occupation. Then, on May 27, a car bomb exploded at Chautauqua Park, killing Neva Romero, Reyes Martinez, and Una Jaakola. Confused friends mourned, while others, including Florencio Granado, gave speeches demanding justice. Two days later, Granado, along with Heriberto Teran and Francisco Dougherty, died when a second explosion incinerated their car in a Burger King parking lot.

Boulder police and the FBI already blamed Chicano activists for other nonfatal bombings in the region, including one at a courthouse. They suspected the six victims accidentally set off their own explosives. But a grand jury that reviewed the incidents—including those that killed Los Seis—didn’t issue any indictments, indicating jurors didn’t buy the prosecutor’s version of events. Today, most historians and local institutions, including CU Boulder, consider the bombings unsolved. Many Chicano activists suspect the FBI, which had a history of infiltrating, discrediting, and sabotaging civil rights groups through its now-disgraced COINTELPRO counterintelligence program, orchestrated the explosions. What is certain, Gonzales says, is that when the shock of Los Seis’ deaths wore off, activists channeled their grief into action, including founding the Chicano-focused newspaper La Cucaracha in Pueblo in 1976. Today, CU Boulder offers a Los Seis scholarship; documentaries and plays such as Su Teatro’s Cuarenta y Ocho explore the bombings; and monuments commemorate the fallen.

One of Los Seis’ most enduring legacies, however, can be found in the essays Gonzales collects from her students. “You can see them trying to figure out: What does it mean to have sacrificed so much for a cause?” she says. Not every student comes to the same conclusion, but there is a common theme: “Take lessons and inspiration and move forward,” Gonzales says, to ensure Los Seis did not die in vain.

This article was originally published in 5280 May 2024.
Chris Walker
Chris Walker
Chris writes for various sections of 5280 as well as