By Abe Villarreal
For a brief time in the history of the New Mexico, a young community of African-Americans made their mark and impact.
During this month of celebration for the contributions that Blacks have made to our country, it may be challenging for us to come up with a name of a prominent African-American contributor from the Land of Enchantment.
While this acknowledgment is not something to applaud, perhaps we should shift our focus and recognize the contributions that everday Black Americans made during the turn of the 20th century.
In 1901, the community of Blackdom was founded. Only 24 square miles in size, Blackdom was located about 18 miles south of Roswell in the eastern part of the state.
A freedman from the southern state of Georgia, Henry Boyer was a member of the Army during the Mexican-American War in 1846. Henry had told stories of New Mexico to his son Frank while growing up in the South. As an adult, Frank was a teacher who encouraged Southerners to report the abuses of Jim Crow laws.
When the Ku Klux Klan began to threaten Frank and his family, he was encouraged to head to the West by his father Henry, remembering that this place we call home was safer ground for persecuted Blacks.
Frank relocated to eastern New Mexico with a goal to establish a self-sustaining community of African-Americans. Blackdom was born as the new century began and in short time the community was home to dozens of families and businesses such as a weekly newspaper, hotel and a Baptist church.
One of the earliest settlers was W.T. Malone. Originally from Mississippi, Malone became the first African-American to pass the New Mexico Bar Exam.
Blackdom was officially incorporated in 1921, but by then many of its settlers had relocated. A worm infestation and drought had damaged the local economy. Today, all that remains of this once thriving community is the cement slab of the old schoolhouse.
Lucy Henderson believed in Blackdom. She settled there and in 1912 wrote to The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper. Henderson wanted those far and wide to know what a welcoming place New Mexico provided for this new utopian community.
“Here the black man has an equal chance with the white man. Here you are reckoned at the value, which you place upon yourself. Your future is in your hands. I feel I owe it to my people to tell them of this free land out here.”
New Mexico continues to be a welcoming and open place for people of all backgrounds.
Abe Villarreal is the Director of Communications at Western New Mexico University. When not on campus, he enjoys writing about his observations on marketing, life, people and American traditions.