The New Mexico Office of African American Affairs is hosting a series of events focusing on the history of the Black experience in New Mexico every Friday in February.
Information on the first event happening on Feb 5th can be found HERE.
The new exhibition on the museum’s second floor, New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, has been drawing visitors keen to learn more about how Black families planted their roots in Las Cruces and Albuquerque. At the exhibition’s opening last month, we were particularly honored by Dr. Doris A. Fields, who wrote a poem specifically for the exhibition’s stay at the New Mexico History Museum, through Oct. 9.
She graciously agreed to allow us to reprint it (below) that we might share it with an even larger audience. (Personally, my heart felt an extra thump when she read the line, “Selling goods/not being goods sold.”)
Doris is a performance artist and poet whose work has appeared in publications like the most recent issue of Malpais Review. She holds a doctorate in International Communication Competence, is an activist and scholar of health care, and teaches a variety of courses at the University of New Mexico, including “Health Issues in Death and Dying” and “Stress Management.” She has conducted workshops for Black women, gifted students and women across cultural differences.
On top of all that, she’s simply one of the warmest people you’ll ever be lucky enough to meet. Her poem has now entered the archives of the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, and we hope you’ll enjoy it here, as well.
Movers and Journeys in Freedom
Impressions in dust
Rising like phoenix powder
Free to drift to roam
Settle where Ever
That is the implication of freedom
I see you do you see
You see me
Peer through eyes
Of dead soldiers
Heads of wool
Dressed in foreign fare
Left on mother continent’s shores
Iridescence you see
Threads a cultural quilt into being
Being as how
The vital organs of existence
A shelter of light -ness
Critical for survival freedom
Build churches towns
Links to Eatonville
Miners mine coal gold
Lawyers archeologists pastors
Soldiers salesmen cowboys
Ride the range
African silhouette in one
Markets cannot dictate
What determination mitigates
Selling goods not being goods sold
Unquenchable thirst for knowledge
Drinking freedom like moonshine on a Saturday night
Soak up dried desert bones
Swallow life whole
To break chains
Explore depths of death-defying souls
Turn earth water seed
Into apples pears peas
Quench thirst for freedom
Resolve that skills count
More than color
Ingenious to wash alkali from soil
Enrich dirt with brown sweat
Talk of promise
Teach the soil its own potential
Black soil black dirt
Fertile as Africa herself
Cooks porters rail workers
Link with Chinese to join
West with East South to North
Find faith in one another
Hearers of G-d
Finding G-d inside
Outside the limiting expectation
Visible Vital Valuable
These are the sounds of freedom
You can go all the way back to the 1527 exploration of Cabeza de Vaca and a Moor who accompanied him. Esteban de Dorantes was, by some accounts, the first African American to set foot in New Mexico, though other historians have traced the lineage as far back as 1050. Despite such a lengthy history, you don’t often hear the stories of New Mexico’s African Americans.
Enter The African American Legacy: Visible, Vital Valuable. The exhibition, produced by the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico took center stage at the History Museum today (May 15) and will be on display through Oct. 9.
The exhibition focuses on the African American experience from the Civil War into the 1950s and includes the communities of Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Blackdom, a short-lived African American community near Roswell in the early 1900s.
Rita Powdrell, president of the African American Museum, which is still working toward a physical building, invoked a West African term, Sankofa in her remarks at the exhibit’s opening. Its meaning is simple: Go and fetch it. Retrieve the past that you might learn from it. In researching different communities’ African American experience in New Mexico, Powdrell said, members of the museum board learned that it differed, one place to the next.
“But the thread that runs through our culture in every community is we have grace in the face of adversity,” she said. “We have love in the face of hate. We have perseverance and a deep and abiding sense of joy. We hope when you see the faces in this exhibit, they will speak to you.”
Other speakers at the opening included retired NMSU Professor Clarence Fielder, the original curator of the exhibition’s Las Cruces section; Gary Williams from the state Office of African American Affairs; and Brenda Dabney, a board member of the African American Museum who paid tribute to the historians on whose shoulders today’s African American researchers stand.
Told on a series of panels, the exhibition focuses on migration, families, churches, social organizations and entrepreneurs, along with the struggles against segregation.
Among the people it features are Cedric and Merdest Billingsley Bradford (left), longtime operators of the U-Tote-Em Grocery Store in Las Cruces and community activists who devoted time to Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and Las Cruces’ public schools.
Powdrell hopes other New Mexicans will come forward with tales of their family’s African American experience so that the exhibition can expand and, one day, cover every pocket of the state. A good place to bring those stories is to the two symposia that accompany the exhibition:
2-4 pm, Sunday, June 12: “The Journey of the African American North,” focusing on Santa Fe and other northern New Mexico communities.
2-4 pm, Sunday, September 25: “Entrepreneurship in the African American Community,” from gas stations to barber shops to restaurants and more.
The events are free and will be held in the History Museum Auditorium.
Today was a day for celebrating, and we’d like to share some glimpses of the event — while encouraging you to come to the museum and check out the show.
Poet Doris Fields shares a poem she wrote especially for the exhibition.
Clarence Fielder, a retired NMSU professor, who began the research for an exhibition about Las Cruces’ African Americans that, years later, grew into today’s version. His co-researcher, who couldn’t attend the event, was then-student Terry Moody, who today works for the state Historic Preservation Division.
Visitors enjoying the exhibition, which is in the museum’s second-floor Gathering Space.
The Gathering Space has plenty of comfy chairs, perfect for watching a 30-minute Colores program from KNME on Blackdom.
When we think of the American West, our minds tend to conjure images of gunfighters, Indian wars and cattle barons. If we think of women at all, it’s most likely a saloon girl or Calamity Jane.
Historians know that’s hardly the distaff story of the West. From Native women who oversaw corn production and the building of adobe homes to Hispanic weavers, artists and property owners, to Anglo businesswomen, physicians and environmental stewards, the female side of the story of the West too often seems to fade into the Victorian wallpaper.
Up to now, that is.
This summer, the New Mexico History Museum begins filling in the historical gaps with four exhibitions focused on women past and present. Let’s round ’em up:
1. Home Lands: How Women Made the West, June 19-Sept. 11, a traveling exhibition from 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.
2. 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.
3. New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable, May 15-Oct. 9 in the second-floor Gathering Space, tells the stories of the families who planted their roots and created a home in the Land of Enchantment following the Civil War.
4. Heart of the Home, May 27-Nov. 20 in La Ventana Gallery, spotlights historic kitchen items from the History Museum’s collections.
(Yes, they open at different times; that’s a reality of what it takes to mount an exhibition.)
“Since its opening in 2009, the New Mexico History Museum’s exhibits have included the stories of men, women and children – a conscious effort on our part to broaden the telling of history,” said museum director Frances Levine. “This summer’s exhibits highlight that commitment by focusing squarely on the contributions made by women that don’t begin and end with popular Western stereotypes.”
So you won’t find Miss Kitty or Calamity Jane or even Santa Fe’s own legendary madame, Dona Tules, in any of the exhibits. Instead, their shared focus is the universal desire to set down roots and create that place called “home.” That seemingly simple act is “a potent way of changing the world,” say Home Lands curators Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken. Home Lands puts women at the center of that focus for a simple reason, the women write in their companion book: “Seeing women in history makes history look different.”
Among the women you will see in the exhibits:
Fabiola Cabeza de Baca. A Las Vegas, NM, native, this teacher and writer elevated both the art and science of homemaking from the Depression forward, blending traditional practices with modern-day conveniences. Beginning in the 1950s, her expertise went global when she started home-economics programs in Central and South America for the United Nations and became a trainer for the Peace Corps. Her story is included in Home Lands.
Fern Sawyer. New Mexico’s best-known cowgirl spent 77 years living up to her motto: “Do all you can as fast as you can.” An inductee into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, Cowgirl Hall of Fame and National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame, Sawyer passed away in 1993, still with her boots on, still in the saddle. Ranch Women of New Mexico includes her story.
Clara Belle Drisdale Williams. In 1937, she became the first African American to graduate from New Mexico State University. After a career of teaching others, she received an honorary law degree from NMSU in 1980, along with an apology for how she was treated as a student. You’ll find her story in New Mexico’s African American Legacy.
Other New Mexico women in Home Lands: Pueblo potter Maria Martinez; painter Pablita Velarde; photographer Laura Gilpin; archaeologist Bertha Dutton; santera Gloria Lopez Cordova; Santa Clara Pueblo artist Nora Naranjo Morse; and poet and playwright Joy Harjo.
The Autry drew on its extensive collections to organize the exhibit, but also purchased must-have items, including Pablita Velarde’s monumental mural, Green Corn Dance. It’s impressive even in a computer-screen’s small scale:
Artifacts range from a 1,200-year-old Mogollon metate to a 20th-century station wagon, textiles, clothing, pottery, paintings, photographs, sculpture, books, and an art piece made of computer components by contemporary artist Marion Martinez.
To kick things off, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation is holding a $200-a-person party called Celebrate on Saturday, June 18. Put on your fancy Western wear and enjoy fine wines and creative cuisine in the Palace Courtyard. Learn more, including how to buy tickets by clicking here.
Throughout the summer, we’ll have special lectures, workshops and symposiums to further deepen your knowledge of women in the West. All these events are free and in the History Museum auditorium unless otherwise noted:
Sunday, June 12, 2 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, 9 am to 4:30 pm, and Tuesday, 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. (Details pending.)
Sunday, Aug. 7, 2-5 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.
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 pm: Symposium on “Entrepreneurship in the African American Community,” from barbers to caterers, mechanics to artists.
Home Lands is generously supported by Cam and Peter Starret, Ernst & Young, Eastman Kodak Company, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Unified Grocers, Wells Fargo, KCET and the Friends of the Autry. Local support is provided by Stanley S. and Karen Hubbard, Dr. Ezekiel and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, the Palace Guard and the Montezuma Ball.