Museum of New Mexico Media Center Press Release

New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable

New Mexico History Museum

March 23, 2011


Since the 1860s, African American communities have been a significant presence in our state, a history detailed in New Mexico's African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, May 15-Oct. 9 at the New Mexico History Museum. Focused on Blackdom, Las Cruces and Albuquerque, the exhibition is presented in cooperation with the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico. Curated by Clarence Fielder and Terry Moody, along with Brenda Ballou Dabney and Rita Powdrell, with graphics by Charlie Kenneson, the show covers subjects as diverse as original families, newcomers and descendants, religion, social organizations and more.

The exhibition has a grand opening from 2-4 pm on Sunday, May 15. The event features speakers, dancers and poet Doris Fields in the History Museum Auditorium. Free with admission; refreshments provided by the Women's Board of the Mus. 

The exhibition joins the History Museum’s summer-long celebration of the roles of women in the West and of the universal desire to make a home here. The heart of the celebration is the exhibit Home Lands: How Women Made the West, along with Ranch Women of New Mexico and Heart of the Home.

Click on "Go to related media" at the top left of this page to download high-resolution images from the exhibit.

African American Legacy focuses on migration, families, churches, social organizations and entrepreneurs, along with the struggles against segregation. Among the people it features:

Elder Euland Greer migrated to Tampico, Mexico, as a boy, with his parents and grandparents to escape oppression in the States. His family knew Gen. Pancho Villa and his army and, at one point, was suspected of harboring them in their home. They moved to New Mexico in 1913 after Greer’s grandmother and father disappeared. Along with his mother, sister and brother-in-law, Elder Greer helped establish God's House Church in Albuquerque.

Clara Belle Drisdale Williams became the first African American to graduate from New Mexico State University in 1937. After a career of teaching others, she was honored with an honorary law degree from NMSU in 1980, along with an apology for how she was treated as a student. (Three of her grandsons became physicians.)

Success was hard-fought. From 1870 to the 1950s, Albuquerque had segregated hotels, restaurants and movie theaters. Las Cruces schools were segregated. African American men were generally relegated to jobs as porters, janitors and cooks; women were maids, caretakers, and caterers. The 1964 Accommodations Act brought integration to New Mexico.

The African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico was formed in 2002 by a consortium of African American organizations and concerned individuals. Though still seeking a permanent home, the group has assembled several exhibitions and expanded its information base. New Mexico’s African American Legacy represents its most recent exhibition. It joins three other summer exhibitions at the History Museum celebrating unsung heroes of the American West:

Home Lands: How Women Made the West, June 19-Sept. 11, originally organized by the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, features additional materials from the History Museum’s collections. The largest of the summer’s four exhibits, it sweeps across the centuries in three regions: the Rio Arriba of northern New Mexico; Colorado’s Front Rage; and the Puget Sound.

Ranch Women of New Mexico, April 15-Oct. 30 in the Mezzanine Gallery, highlights 11 women in this excerpt from an exhibit originally prepared by photographer Ann Bromberg and writer Sharon Niederman.

Heart of the Home, May 27-Nov. 20 in La Ventana Gallery, spotlights historic kitchen items from the History Museum’s collections.

The full schedule of lectures and workshops supporting these exhibitions; all are free and in the History Museum auditorium unless other noted:

Sunday, June 12, 2-4 pm: Symposium on “The Journey of the African American North,” including stories from Santa Fe and Española.

Sunday, June 26, 2 pm: “Captive Women in the Slave System of the Southwest Borderland.” Lecture by James F. Brooks, president of the School for Advanced Research and prize-winning author of Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands.

Sunday, July 10, 2 pm: “Fabiola Cabeza de Baca and The Good Life.” Lecture by Tey Diana Rebolledo, regents professor at the University of New Mexico.

Sunday, July 17, 2 pm: “Moving Around to Settle In: Women of the Plains and Range.” Lecture by Virginia Scharff, co-curator of Home Lands and director of UNM’s Center for the Southwest.

Monday, July 25, 9 am to 4:30 pm, and Tuesday, July 26, 9 am to 12 pm: "Planting Seeds:  Home, Healing and Horticulture." Conference in collaboration with the New Mexico Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. $25.

Sunday, Aug. 7, 2-4 pm: “Homespun: Northern New Mexico Spinning and Weaving Techniques.” Members of the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center demonstrate Pueblo, Navajo and Spanish techniques in the Palace Courtyard.

Friday, Aug. 12, 6 pm: “Through Her Eyes: An American Indian Woman’s Perspective.” Lecture by Eunice Petramala, park ranger at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Saturday, Sept. 25, 2-4 pm: Symposium on “Entrepreneurship in the African American Community,” from barbers to caterers, mechanics to artists.

Phone number for publication: 505-476-5200



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