Commemorative Black History Month program at the library
By Christina Stock
The public is invited to an afternoon of activities commemorating and celebrating Black History Month. Sponsored by the Black Heritage Committee, the theme for this special program is “What do We do With the Past? Learn From It!” It will include an exploration of specific historical incidents that can be shaped in the context of present-day events. “Learn From the Past” is scheduled Feb. 23 from 2 to 5:30 p.m., at the Roswell Public Library, 301 N. Pennsylvania Ave., in the Bondurant Room. The event is free of charge, and refreshments will be served.
It is hard to imagine that the land of the free was once the land of slavery. The country’s past and achievements are stacked on the backs of kidnapped and sold human beings from Africa. It is easy to forget and to ignore, after all — it happened long ago.
Alice Wagoner is part of the Black Heritage Committee with strong roots in the area and Roswell’s African-American history. She is a descendent of L.K. Wagoner, a teacher at Blackdom’s school. Blackdom was founded in the early 1900s by Francis Boyer and located just south of Roswell as an all-black community.
Boyer was known as “Black Moses.” He left his home in Georgia in 1896 and worked his way west, spreading the word of his dream of a black settlement in New Mexico. Blackdom, however, was neither Boyer’s first, nor last attempt at this dream.
He created settlements in Alabama and Florida before coming to New Mexico. As Blackdom began to decline in the mid-’20s due to the water supply drying up, he and other settlers created a new homestead about 15 miles south of Las Cruces, which they named Vado. Today, Vado is still thriving with a diverse population of 3,194 counted at the last census in 2010. Only 1.03 percent of the population said that they were of African American descent. Hispanic or Latino of any race was 95 percent of the population.
Alice Wagoner didn’t know about her connection to Blackdom. “My mother married into that family,” she said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know until I was an adult. My mother and father separated. So I didn’t grow up with him or the family. When I came back to Roswell in 2006 to help care for my mother, that’s when I started finding out about that history.
“When I did reunite with my dad later in his life, I asked him some questions,” Wagoner said. “We drove out to the Blackdom marker, on the way to Artesia. I have pictures of him and my mother where he is reading the marker and he would recall when he would visit his grandmother out there and how he sometimes lived out there in Blackdom.”
Asked why she started the program, Wagoner said, “In 2011 is when me and some people in the community decided to coordinate because the ones that had done it before, they stopped. And we thought it was important to continue to bring people to remember and commemorate black history because we were part of the history and it shouldn’t be discounted, it shouldn’t be dismissed and it shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Wagoner suggested this year on the theme, “What do We do With the Past? Learn From It!” due to an encounter she had in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
“I was talking to someone there regarding the past and that person was saying, ‘I can’t do anything with the past. Those people are gone, I can’t do anything with the past.’ So, I thought about that sometime after that conversation, because of bad things that had happened to me in my past. The thing is, when you go through this life, you are supposed to be learning from the past. Learn from events that have occurred, learn from the people that have gone before you. What they did, what they didn’t do. What you think they should have done, what could have been done to improve their situation. And you take that, you take that person’s experience and you try to apply it to what you are going through in life. So that’s why I say, learn from the past,” Wagoner said.
According to this, the Black Heritage Committee will not have a specific guest speaker, instead several people in the community were asked to research certain African-American people in history and present their findings at the program.
“I chose for them some people from the 18th century, some black people, some who are not too well known, but they accomplished something in the past,” Wagoner said. “Some of the people include Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Paul Cuffe.”
Wells-Barnett was a prominent journalist, activist and researcher, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her lifetime, she battled sexism, racism and violence. As a skilled writer, Wells-Barnett also used her skills as a journalist to shed light on the conditions of African-Americans throughout the South.
Cuffe was a shipbuilder, merchantman and a man of faith. He was one of the few black Quakers in the early 1800s and an important figure in American trade history.
Wagoner and the Black Heritage Committee is keeping the history in our area alive.
“All of us have some history,” she said. “We make history every day. If we go way back, what did we learn? Are we still learning? Have we not learned at all? With some people, you find out they haven’t learned so they keep on making the same mistakes over and over again.”
One of the people of the community who is going to speak is Jessie Roberts. “Her granddad and father farmed in Louisiana and she moved here to Roswell. She is going to share what she learned from her ancestors, from her people, and how she made her life in Roswell,” Wagoner said.
The Black Heritage Committee is still working on finalizing the program at the Roswell Public Library as of this printing.
The event is free to the public and refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the Black Heritage Committee at 575-317-4045.