Home News Local News Juneteenth celebrated for many decades here

Juneteenth celebrated for many decades here

Local residents gather on Juneteenth, Saturday afternoon, at the Blackdom Township historic marker on U.S. 285 about 18 miles south of Roswell. Founded in 1908, the town once occupied about 15,000 acres in that area. Included in the photo are descendants of Blackdom residents, as well as some people who still own their families’ land. They include Alice Wagoner, fourth from left; Sarah Douglas-King, sixth from left; Anna Douglas Madden, first person to the right of the sign; Ernestine Walker, fourth from right; Sayku Williams, third from right; Josiah Whitelocke, second from right; and Steve Wagoner, right. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Local residents participating in a Juneteenth commemoration Saturday that included a tour of significant places in Black local history said that people in the area have been gathering to remember the day and share their stories for at least five decades.

That this is the first year that Juneteenth is a federal holiday didn’t change how they felt, according to some of the 20 or so people who gathered first at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Roswell and then traveled together to the Blackdom Township historic marker, about 18 miles south of the city on U.S. 285.

The group also planned to visit school sites, businesses and other places of historical significance.

“I don’t need a government structure to tell me to celebrate the past,” said Alice Wagoner, the descendent of a Blackdom resident and the organizer of this year’s event. “I was doing it before, and I never even thought about having a national holiday. I think it is important for us to know the history and do the research. If they aren’t going to teach it in the schools, then we get the books, we get the materials, we do the research.”

“It is as important for non-Blacks to know our true history as for us,” said Ernestine Wagoner.

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During the stop at the historic marker, Sarah Douglas-King and Anna Douglas Madden, two of the granddaughters of a man who was a school teacher and property owner in Blackdom, talked about the town and their family’s continued ownership of his land.

Blackdom was founded as the state’s first African American community in 1908 and settled as a largely agricultural town by people from the Deep South and neighboring states who were granted land rights of at least 160 acres if they could meet the requirements. Eventually many families made the area their home, with Blackdom growing to about 15,000 acres and having a commercial district that included a post office, a general store, a school and office building. The lack of water and a county law that restricted drilling wells caused many of them to be unable to farm. The town was largely abandoned by the 1920s.

That white residents in the area made life difficult for Blackdom residents with policies regarding water access, as well as continued concerns now about access to property, were mentioned. A couple of people at the gathering said their history is often “sad, sorrowful and painful.”

June 19, 1865, is when slaves in Texas finally were notified by Union soldiers that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln two and half years earlier. The day has been commemorated ever since, but became nationally recognized only in recent years. In 1997, Congress passed a resolution to declare June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day. In 2006, New Mexico made the day a state holiday. President Joe Biden signed legislation into law on Thursday making June 19 a federal holiday.