Memorial to be built for little known black community

By Helena Rodriguez: FNM Correspondent

By Helena Rodriguez

FNM Correspondent

A small black community between Roswell and Artesia was an epicenter of social life during its heyday in the early 1900s.

Before succumbing to ghost town status in 1929, Blackdom was known far and wide for its famous mouth-watering pies, its Fourth of July and Juneteenth celebrations.

At one point, it was even hailed for being the only community in the state with a college-educated teacher.

All that remains of Blackdom today is a cement foundation. It is off limits to the public because it is landlocked, meaning it is surrounded by privately-owned land in its location about 10 to 12 miles south of Roswell.

Nevertheless, the story of how Blackdom came into existence — if even for a brief time — is enough for the New Mexico Legislature to award almost $250,000 to the Blackdom Memorial Foundation in Roswell.

According to the Rev. Anjar Abukosumo, a Roswell pastor who is president of the Blackdom Memorial Foundation, Inc., the money will be used to build a Blackdom Memorial near the center of downtown Roswell near the Anderson Contemporary Art Museum.

Abukosumo said they hope to break ground for the memorial in 2010.

Eastern New Mexico University Professor Geni Flores has been taking her Multicultural History class students to the site each semester for the past several years.

Flores doesn’t remember exactly when she first heard of Blackdom, probably while a teacher in Lovington.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until she moved to Portales to teach at ENMU and asked Gene Bundy of Special Collections at Eastern’s Golden Library about Blackdom that she was able to learn more about the settlement. To her surprise, Bundy had also heard of Blackdom.

According to historical accounts, Henry Boyer, a Buffalo soldier from Georgia, went home in 1846 and told all of his friends about land in the High Plains of New Mexico. Boyer was a wagoneer for the U.S. Army, in a unit headed by Gen. Stephen W. Kearny.

Boyer wanted to return there and settle the land, but never made it back.

In 1899, however, Boyer’s son, Francis Marion Boyer — the first Boyer child born free from slavery — talked a friend, Daniel Keyes, into going to New Mexico to establish a black settlement.

The problem, however, was because they were black, they could not purchase a train ticket from Georgia to New Mexico. According to Flores, the two men walked all the way to New Mexico, doing jobs along the way to support themselves.

Once in New Mexico, they faced another obstacle of finding someone to sell them land. They eventually found a Jewish man who had depleted a woodlands south of Roswell and was willing to sell them the property.

Deed in hand, Boyers and Keys went through Oklahoma and homeward, offering land to black families who would come and settle in this community they named Blackdom.

In 1900, the town became incorporated. By 1920, the town boasted a population upwards of 300.

Up until the 1920s, Blackdom was a thriving community. It operated with well water, boasted orchards, farms, a church and even a small school house. According to Flores, Blackdom was the site of the first Juneteenth celebration in New Mexico and soon its popular Fourth of July celebrations was drawing people of all backgrounds. There was barbecue, dancing and baseball tournaments.

The demise of Blackdom, however, began with the onset of a three-year drought which wiped out the town. The town lost its water source and families began moving out.

The last resident to leave Blackdom left in 1929. After the town disappeared, people spread out, but, a large number of its former residents went to Vado, a town south of Las Cruces which continues to have a large African American population today.

Abukosumo feels it is important to educate people about the history of Blackdom.

“First of all, it is a history that was born out of changes with regard to the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in America,” Abukosumo said. “It also marks the determination of African American citizens who came west looking for opportunity; it shows their self-determination and the protection they had in numbers.

“It is extremely important that this segment of American history be told because as we get to familiarize ourselves with each other, we then have an understanding of the things that contributed to our history and the hardships that we all endured. There are people, other ethnic groups, who were also involved in Blackdom,” he continued. “The cowboys that came up on the cattle drives…played baseball games with them (people of Blackdom) and the white farmers that helped with irrigation and traded with them.”

Abukosumo said he first heard of Blackdom in 2000. Prior to that, he said he had no idea there had been a black settlement so near Roswell.

According to Abukosumo, the Blackdom Memorial in Roswell will consist of four phases, the first part being a memorial garden, followed by a museum, then a restaurant and the fourth stage will be an African import shop. He said land for the memorial site was donated by the Roswell City Council.

A historical marker was erected for Blackdom at a rest stop on Highway 285, between Roswell and Artesia, in 2002.

On Jan. 31, Abukusumo will present one of a series of lectures on Blackdom and the African-American experience in New Mexico the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.

Seating is limited. Tickets to the event, part of the Telling New Mexico Inaugural Lecture Series, are $10 and can be obtained at the shops in the History Museum and Palace of the Governors. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.museumfoundation.org/tellingnm