From the Roaring Twenties until the Depression 1

By
Randolph Stakeman

The 1920's saw attempts by the African Americans in Albuquerque to move their community forward and attempts by some whites to constrain them. As an example there was St. Timothy Richards. He accompanied his father Reverend Allen Richards who accepted the pastorate of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in 1912. S.T. had been trained and worked briefly as a teacher in his native Arkansas. He could not practice that profession due to the racial discrimination of the public school system. He worked as a porter for a men's store eventually rising to the position of clerk there. In 1919 he became a railroad porter but that job would neither define nor contain him. He opened a grocery store in 1921 while still working as a railroad porter. He later sold the grocery and built a two story building on Marquette Avenue and Broadway that became important for the black community. The first floor housed several restaurants, a night club, and a funeral home own by black entrepreneurs. The top floor served for several years a black meeting space, the People's Hall, the first such public building for blacks in Albuquerque. Seniors interviewed in the 1970's remembered it as "a place where we could go and have socials," and "an exciting place for teenage people to go. From high school we'd go down there at noon and have lunch." Richards also built the Ideal Hotel to serve as a public lodging facility for blacks when there weren't many other options for African Americans visiting Albuquerque. 2

A second example was Silas W. Henry who is first listed in the 1910 city directory as a bootblack but by 1913 had become a partner in the Bryant Messenger Service. He left that after a year and started a string of his own businesses from a parcel delivery service in 1915 to his own messenger service and transfer companies by 1921. In 1922 he started the Henry Printing Company and began publishing a newspaper the Southwest Review. This was not the first black newspaper in Albuquerque. A black lawyer named Oscar Hudson had similarly started a printing service and newspaper called the New Age in 1913 but it only lasted a year. The paper's short lifespan clearly indicated that the first newspaper found little success with the black community of the time and no copies of it have been found extant. The situation was different when Henry founded the Southwest Review. He had the wherewithal and financial standing to maintain the newspaper even though the black community had not grown that much. The newspaper started in 1922 and lasted until Henry's illness and subsequent death in 1927. The newspaper's front page was usually based on the national NAACP news service and wrote about national issues affecting African Americans. It also had regular articles and notices about local events both in Albuquerque and in other New Mexican black communities in places like Las Cruces, Roswell and Vado. It tried to be a regional paper with an office and a reporter in El Paso, Texas as well.

Southwester Plaindealer3

In 1924 a competing black newspaper called the Southwestern Plaindealer was founded by our friend S.T. Richards. We know of this only because he sent a letter and a copy to the governor of New Mexico Arthur T. Hannett. The note requested that Hannett appoint African Americans to some state offices as none had been appointed before. The issue of the newspaper had an article praising Hannett and urged African Americans to support the Democratic Party as a party of reform and "clean' politics in contrast to the Republican Party which they had traditionally supported since Lincoln. It was in clear contrast to the other black newspaper S.W. Henry's Southwest Review which was staunchly Republican.3

Both black newspapers and the Albuquerque African American community itself were shaken by the state legislature's passage of a law that allowed the segregation of African Americans, and only African Americans, in separate schools if local school boards so wanted. Although some segregation had been practiced in New Albuquerque since its origins in 1880, the African American population had been able to rebuff segregation in the local schools and proposed segregation on the street cars. The local NAACP had been formed in 1913 to lead these fights. By the 1920's although some establishments still refused to serve African Americans and the theaters had a separate balcony area for blacks, there was only limited segregation in public facilities in Albuquerque. The state legislature's allowance of segregated schools was received as quite a blow to the black community.

The change allowing segregated schools came in an omnibus bill in the state legislature reforming the school code that had been passed in 1923. In 1925 a state legislature more concerned with establishing a new way to finance schools, regulate school boards, depoliticize school board elections, and change teacher compensation, passed Senate Bill 95 which also contained an amendment to allow local school boards to set up separate schools for African Americans. The new law said If the county or municipal school board and the state board of education:

It is for the best advantage and interest of the school that separate room be provided for the teaching of pupils [of] African descent and such rooms are so provided, such pupils may not be admitted to school rooms occupied and used by pupils of Caucasian or other descent.4

The bill passed the state House of Representatives with only one dissenting vote. The Albuquerque NAACP sent a delegation that met with the state senate's steering committee. Despite this the measure passed the state senate overwhelmingly (42-3).

The right of New Mexicans of Latino descent not to be forced to attend schools separate from whites had been guaranteed by the New Mexico state Constitution in 1912. Despite this a state legislature dominated by Republicans and a Democratic governor allowed a "Jim Crow" change in the school code thus ignoring the interests of New Mexico African Americans. New Mexican African Americans were politically impotent and could not affect their statewide fate when the forces of racism prevailed.

In a last ditch effort to prevent the governor from signing the bill into law, the Albuquerque NAACP organized a petition. The petititon read in part:

The State of New Mexico has never been a Jim Crow state heretofore and we feel that this measure is only the beginning of segregation and disenfranchisement of the Negro in our state. We pray you will not sanction a law that will prohibit or hinder the educational progress of any citizens regardless of race, color or religion, as such a measure as the Bill above referred to would certainly do, by adding your signature…5

The governor ignored the petition of 41 people and signed the bill anyway.

The news hit the Albuquerque black community like a thunderbolt. There had been little racial discrimination in Albuquerque and the black community felt it had escaped the racism mores of the south with their racism and segregation. The overwhelming passage of this law allowing segregation pointed out the precariousness of their position. Almost every legislator, no matter the political party, was willing to sacrifice the interests of black schoolchildren in order to get a new school code that put school systems on a firmer financial and organizational footing. More to the point the racism of the Southern states was making inroads into New Mexico. New Mexico had never been totally free of prejudice but the black community of New Mexico had convinced itself that things were better there than other places.

No issues of S.T. Richards' Southwestern Plaindealer survive from that time, but S.W. Henry's Southwest Review trumpeted its opposition loud and clear:

[the bill] brought out a test tht will long be remembered by colored New Mexicans as to who to trust as friends. [S.W. Henry blames] Ilfeld of Las Vegas a JEW, - Holt of Las Cruces, a staunch republican (?) whose majority was made sure by Negro votes of Dona Ana County, - Espinosa, a Mexican American of Belen and others of the 'do anything-you-say boss type' must be put down as the vilest enemies of the Negro race. They just simply hate Negroes and Negroes know it. They supported this measure because of their own personal feeling and prejudices. 6

In reporting on the next NAACP meeting the paper said the "colored citizens were bitter in their denunciation of the legislature," and "that many are discouraged and are preparing to leave the state." The paper said that some had already left. The paper was bitter too and in an article otherwise favorable about the adoption of a state flag said ' …it is too bad that at the same session …[that African Americans] are now by the growth of race prejudice discriminated against by law as if they are lepers.7" In the March 28, 1925 issue the paper quoted State Senator Holt of Las Cruces as saying to a protesting delegation of African Americans, "Law or no law we are going to have separate schools." In an editorial in the same issue the paper lamented that the Republican state senate was hypocritical and did not live up to its Republican principles. 8

Henry's Southwest Review continued to publish until 1927 when Henry's illness and subsequent death ended its run. In fact only the school boards in the southern part of the state like Las Cruces and in the southeastern part of the state colloquially called "Little Texas" because of its large population of Texas immigrants and its proximity to Texas, organized separate schools for blacks. It has been reported that an official of the Albuquerque school board offered the town's African Americans their own school in the late 1930's, but they were turned down.9 In Catherine Watkins Duncan's 1938 master's thesis she lists nine separate elementary schools that were set up in the southern and southeastern New Mexico locales.10 None of the schools in Albuquerque were segregated and no separate schools for African Americans were set up there.

The great exodus of African Americans from New Mexico that Henry had predicted did not happen. If we subtract the soldiers anomalously posted down near the Mexico border the 1920 New Mexico black population is approximately 2133. By the end of the 1920's in the 1930 census the number of African Americans in New Mexico had grown to 2850, an increase of about 33%. Albuquerque's black population had increased to over 400 thus doubling after two decades of stagnation.

If we group people into the same four age groups as before, children (<15), young adults (15 to 34), mature adults (35 to 64) and elders (65+), we can see how the population had changed. In 1930 much more of the black population is comprised of children and there is a greater share of mature adults. There is a smaller proportion of young adults and of elders in the 1930 population. It is significant that most of these children (58%) were born in New Mexico. Even if we restrict our analysis to children who weren't in the 1920 census 45% were born in New Mexico. Of the children born since the 1920 manuscript census over 79% were born in New Mexico. Although only 12% of the people listed in the 1920 manuscript census were also listed in the 1930 manuscript census, the increase in population is made up not only of new immigrants but of an increasing number of children within the stable core of Albuquerque's black population.

Chart of Age Roups in 1920 and 1930

By 1930 therefore we can see that since the 1920's there is beginning to be a growing group of African Americans who would consider Albuquerque the place to put down roots, to start and to rear a family. This group augmented the small group of African Americans who had been settled in Albuquerque during the 1900 to 1920 period. This core was not only enough to produce the beginnings and growing maturity of African American social institutions and groups, it was enough to frighten whites and cause defensive measures to ensure white dominance.

It was in the 1920's that we began to see deeds and real estate contracts with racially restrictive covenants that banned whites in some areas from selling to African Americans. The November 28, 1925 issue of the Southwest Review has a main headline and front page story about a court case concerning Albuquerque housing discrimination. Eugenia Keleher sued in district court to prevent Charles Zapf, an Albuquerque realtor, from selling building lots to "persons of African blood or descent." There had been a "gentleman's agreement," an unwritten rule, against such a sale that Zapf threatened to break. Keleher was suing to have the warrant deed to the lots changed to include the discriminatory stipulation. This move to formalize the informal housing discrimination system by having the legal system enforce it was a major change. The prominence that the newspaper gives this news argues for the rarity of such Albuquerque racial discrimination being made public by having the legal system enforce it.11 Several such racially restrictive covenants were written into Albuquerque deeds for the rest of the 1920's and beyond.12

There was an avalanche of these racially restrictive covenants in Northern, Midwestern, and Far Western urban areas around the county at that time. Some historians have linked the appearance of these covenants to two Supreme Court decisions. In a case brought to the Supreme Court by the NAACP and its allies, Buchanan v. Warely, the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for a municipal government to racially zone an area. In contrast the Supreme Court ruled in 1926 that private contracts that contained racially restrictive covenants were legal in Corrigan v. Buckley. Later historians have challenged that explanation saying that racial covenants predate the 1917 decision, they did not occur first and often in those places whose municipal zoning was struck down, and that those explanations are too simplistic for what was a more complex process.13

One later historian has attributed the rise in restrictive covenants to a multistage process. In the first stage the wave of race riots, that is, white attacks upon African Americans and their communities that occurred from 1917 to 1921 led some to view segregation as the way to prevent social violence in urban areas. In the second stage institutions developed to pursue the segregationist course of action. He mentions the National Association of Real Estates Boards who through their policy recommendations and manuals spread the idea of racial covenants to realtors throughout the country. Once the federal government also practiced these racially restrictive policies in the New Deal programs that sprang up in the 1930's, the institutionalization of racial covenants was underway. Although the Supreme Court ruled that enforcement of such bans by state or local authorities was illegal in 1948, racially restrictive covenants continued until local conditions or the 1965 Fair Housing Act made them illegal.14

Albuquerque did not experience any race riots or racial violence at all. The riot closest to Albuquerque was the 1921 Tulsa race riot and that was over 600 miles away. The National Association of Real Estate Boards probably did have some contact either formal or informal with local realtors and as we shall see in later chapters the New Deal agencies were certainly active in Albuquerque. Those areas of New Mexico in which school segregation appeared were areas where the black population was increasing. Although the total African American population of New Mexico had only increased 33% from 1920 to 1930 some places increased more than others. The total number of African Americans in Las Cruces, as an example of a place which created segregated schools, saw an increase of its population from 54 in 1920 to 206 in 1930 some 382%. Another such place Clovis, New Mexico saw its African American population increase 283% in the same period. In Albuquerque the African American population almost doubled and as we have seen they became more interested in owning property and raising families. Any real explanation of the perceived need for whites to get a better legal support for discrimination and segregation will probably be complex, nuanced and multifaceted. However one of those facets will be a perceived growth in the African American population and the change to a more settled African American community which threatened the white monopolization of schools and residential areas.

  1. Banner photo is 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Library.
  2. Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers, p 50-51. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p.28, based on interviews he conducted with Mrs. Venera Foy and Mr. Walter Macdonald; and Maisha Baton, Do Remember Me 2, p 26-27, quotes from Baton interviews with Mrs. Thelma MacDonald Jackson and Mrs. Exelona Clayton Bramlett.
  3. Papers of Governor A.T. Hannett, New Mexico State Archives
  4. Papers of Governor A.T. Hannett, New Mexico State Archives
  5. Petition in Governor A.T. Hannett Papers, New Mexico State Archives,
  6. Editorial, Southwest Review March 14,1925 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  7. Editorial, Southwest Review March 14,1925 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  8. Southwest Review March 28, 1925, p.1 and p.4 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  9. Roger Banks, "Between the Tracks and the Freeway: African Americans in Albuquerque," in Bruce Glasrud editor, African American History in New Mexico: Portraits from Five Hundred Years, Kindle edition location 3216.
  10. Catherine Watkins Duncan, "A Survey of the Separate Elementary Schools for Negroes in the State of New Mexico," A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education, Universisty of New Mexico, 1938, p. 4 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  11. Southwest Review November 28, 1925 p.1 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  12. I have found eleven such deeds dated 1925 to 1929 in the Bernalillo County Clerk's office and many more in subsequent decades. Examples include Buena Vista Heights to Stella Corbin, November 28, 1925, Old Book 102 p. 367; Southwestern Construction Company to Ira and Rosa Lee Downey, May 6, 1926, Old Book 90 p.468; Parkland Hills Incorporated to Latif Hyder, November 15, 1926, Old Book 97 p.122.
  13. For the Supreme Court decisions explanations see Allan Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto 1890-1920 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1969); Clement Vose, Caucasians Only: The Supreme Court, the NAACP and the Restrictive Covenant Cases (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959) and William Tuttle, "Contested Nieghborhoods and Racial Violence: Prelude to the Chicago Riot of 1919," Journal of Negro History 55 (October 1970.) For criticism of this view see Michael Jones-Correa, "The Origins and Diffusion of Racial Restrictive Covenants," Political Science Quarterly, vol 115. No. 4 (Winter, 2000-2001,) pp. 541-568.
  14. Jones-Correa, "The Origin and Diffusion of Racial Restrictive Covenants," pp. 557-561.