From 1900 to 1920

By
Randolph Stakeman

Beginning in 1900 we can see from Figure 1 that the percentage of New Mexico's black population who lived in Albuquerque (the darker line) fluctuated in a narrow range from 10% to 15%. 1 At all points from 1900 to 1940 the percentage of New Mexican African Americans who lived in Albuquerque was greater than the percentage of the total population of New Mexico who lived in Albuquerque (the lighter line) according to the census.

Chart Percentages of African Americans

From 1900 on Albuquerque is the city with the largest black population although the town with the second largest black population varies over time. The demographics of Albuquerque therefore reveal the contours of African American urban life in New Mexico. Demographic statistics can be helpful as long as we remember that they only give a snapshot and an approximate look at the community. Their numbers give a false impression of precision and accuracy. As long as one remembers we are dealing with people rather than numbers and that the numbers themselves represent fickle data collection at best, demographics can be helpful.

In 1900 New Mexico was a predominantly rural place. It was still a United States controlled territory rather than a state. Eighty-six % of the inhabitants lived in rural areas as defined by the U.S. Census bureau and only fourteen percent lived in urban areas. 2 New Mexican African Americans were a much more urban group with 35% living in urban areas, but even this meant 65% were living in rural areas. Of the New Mexican black urban dwellers 40% lived in Albuquerque. They lived in a community quite different from other New Mexico African American communities. In New Mexico as a whole African American men outnumbered African American women 1023 to 587. Even in urban areas there were 105 African American men for each 100 African American women. In 1900 Albuquerque there were equal numbers of black men and black women in total but among black adults the ratio was 110 black males for every 100 black females. There were only slightly more single males in Albuquerque than married ones while in the New Mexico territory as a whole single black males outnumbered married ones by a wide margin. Even so black women who lived in Albuquerque were much more likely to be married (54.5% of black women) than black women in the territory as a whole (43% of black women.) There was also an abnormal number of widows among black women. The territorial figure was high at 12% of black women but in Albuquerque it was more than twice that at 25%. A larger proportion of black women were widows than were otherwise unmarried.

The black community in turn of the twentieth century Albuquerque had all the attributes of a recently settled community. Over a third of black males lived as lodgers in other people's households. The median age of the black community was high; overall it was 28 years old but among black males it was even higher at 31. To put it into context in 1900 the overall median age of the United States was 19.4, of all African Americans in the U.S. it was 19.4, of all New Mexicans it was 21.2. The median age of Albuquerque African Americans was even higher than the age of all blacks in New Mexico which was high to start with at 26.8. The Census Bureau reminds us that, "The states with a median age far above the average are those in which a large part of the Negroes are immigrants [from other states.]" 3
If we group people into four age groups children (<15), young adults (15 to 34), mature adults (35 to 64) and elders (65+) we can see how the Albuquerque African American community differed from the rest of New Mexico in 1900.

Pie Chart Age groups

The percentage of the population who were children is much less in the Albuquerque black population than in the New Mexico population as a whole. Adults both young and mature made up a greater percentage of the Albuquerque African American population than the New Mexico total population and elders comprised less. All of these are demographic signs that the Albuquerque African American population was a community in flux. The low percentage of children and the high percentage of adults suggest that the community's growth was being sustained by in migration rather than natural increase. This was particularly true of the Albuquerque black male population in which these trends were heightened. Among Albuquerque black males the percentage of children is even lower (21.1%) and we note that among adults only 32.5% are young adults while 45.5 % are mature adults and less than 1% are elders.

The migration statistics bear out that this was a community formed by in-migration. Some 79% of African Americans living in New Mexico were born outside the territory as compared to only 22% of the white population. Only twenty one percent of the territory's African Americans were born in New Mexico while the next highest contributing states were Virginia, Texas and Missouri in that order. In Albuquerque about the same proportion of the population was born in New Mexico (22%) and it was followed by Texas, Missouri and Kentucky. In other words about 78% of Albuquerque African Americans were born elsewhere. This wasn't the same for men and women. A greater proportion of the men migrated into New Mexico. Eighty three percent of the men and only 75% of the women were born outside the territory.

This trend continues through 1920 as a decreasing proportion of Albuquerque African Americans were born in New Mexico. Throughout the period the gap between the percentage of Albuquerque black men and Albuquerque black women born in New Mexico remains about the same. Only after the Depression decade of the 1930's do they approach each other in 1940 at a point below that of 1900. In 1940 after the greatest increase ever in Albuquerque's black population, less than twenty percent of both men and women were born in New Mexico.

Line graph Percentage of African Americans Born in NM

The early Albuquerque African American community was moreover a community in transit. Of the 224 people found in the 1900 manuscript census less than 10% were found in the 1910 manuscript census. This is at best only a rough approximation of how many people stayed in Albuquerque; women who stayed may have changed their names through marriage; people may have stayed but moved beyond the city limits. I have tried to correct for this by including the areas just outside Albuquerque in the manuscript census and trying to discern female holdovers through similar names, birthplaces and parents' birthplaces. One can conclude even from these rough estimates that the great preponderance of the community had moved elsewhere by 1910.

Another way to note the slow evolution to a more settled and less transitory community is to look at home ownership. The manuscript census lists whether the heads of household own or rent their residences. If we examine the figures for the African American heads of household we see some clear trends.

  1900   1910   1920  
HHH 66   70   66  
Owned 10 (15.2%) 10 (14.3%) 26 (39.4%)
Rented 52 (78.8%) 60 (85.7%) 38 (57.6%)
Unknown 4 (6.1%) 0 (0.0%) 2 (3.0%)

The first thing to note is that the number of household heads remains about the same between 1900 and 1920. This coordinates with our knowledge that the total African American population of Albuquerque overall did not change much in this period. The major change is in the number of household heads who own rather than rent their residences. Although the percentage of renters remains significantly above 50%, the number and percentage of home owners more than doubles. The movement toward more ownership also translates to a movement of location. Using the Geographic Information System we can track where African Americans lived in Albuquerque through each manuscript census. We can use the addresses given in the census to map where African American rentals or houses owned would have been located in contemporary Albuquerque. A map of the 1900 census would showed them in rentals in the central city area. As homeownership increased however we see them moving out of the central city to the further reaches of the city and beyond. On the map the O's represent houses owned and the R's are rentals. The central city is shown in red and the new areas where most of the African American home owners clustered is in blue. Note the area in blue towards the south because that is where the black residences would cluster in decades to come.

Albuquerque African Americans themselves may have had a hand in this change. In 1918 a group of people active in the local black Mount Olive Baptist church formed the Rio Grande National Development Society. The society was formed for the purpose of buying and selling real estate and operating sanitoria for "colored peoples, Mexicans and Indians. The pastor of the Mount Olive Baptist Church, Reverend A. J. Lewis became president of the new society, Kendrick Penman (listed in the census as a blacksmith helper) became vice president and Dr. James Lewis was the secretary. It had as subsidiary companies the Rio Grande Realty Company and the Booker T. Washington Memorial Sanatorium. All three operated out of Dr. Lewis's office. The sanatorium itself was located near Dr. Lewis's residence and the greatest growth in black owned residences were in areas where the president of the society lived in the northern light blue section of the map and where the manager of the realty company lived in the southern light blue area. 4

Map of Where African americans Rented or Bought Homes in 1920

It is important to note that neither of these areas was exclusively African American. They were mixed race areas where whites lived alongside people of other races. Both the AME church and a black Masonic lodge were in operation by the turn of the century. Judging from the names of the deacons and the officers of the lodge the same people were instrumental in both. There was great turnover among these civic leaders of the black community. No more than a third of the church officers, stewards and stewardess listed in the city directories were still in Albuquerque in the next census in 1910. Many of the institutions the community created however, like the African Methodist Episcopal church, remained and were continued by their successors. The institutions that were created and the few families that remained in Albuquerque therefore took on a crucial role in the continuity of the community. 5

As we have already seen the census occupations of African Americans are not always reflective of their lives. Nevertheless they are important in understanding the community. The occupations of Albuquerque African Americans differed a bit from African Americans in other parts of New Mexico as we can see in Table B. In all columns the total number of men in each category is listed in parentheses. The first column lists the most prevalent occupations of New Mexico African American males in 1900. We can compare it to the next column which lists the most common occupations of Albuquerque African American males in the same year. The third and fourth columns are the most common occupations for black females in New Mexico and Albuquerque respectively.

Table B 1900 Occupations

NM Black Males Albuquerque Black Males NM Black Females Albuquerque Black Females
Military (216) Porter (15) Servants (62) Laundress (7)
Miners (200) Day Laborer (12) Laundresses (35) Cook (3)
Servants (102) Teamster (6) Lodging House Keepers (8) House Keepers (3)
Laborers (94) Barber (6) House Keepers (8) Nurse (1)
Porters (30) Janitor (6) Laborers (5) Lodging House Keepers (1)
Barbers (22) Laborer (6) Nurses/Midwives (5)  
Herders (20) Waiter (5)    
Teamsters (19) Cook (4)    

The first thing to note is that there were no black military men nor miners in Albuquerque as there were in other parts of New Mexico. Nor were there many primary good producers like herders, farmers or agricultural laborers. African American men in Albuquerque were confined to service occupations like porter, teamster, janitor, waiter, cook or unspecified laborers. This is not totally unexpected in an urban environment which should concentrate service jobs. For example one quarter of the black barbers and half of the black janitors in New Mexico were in Albuquerque. Unfortunately the census figures from this census do not tell us how many black Albuquerque citizens worked for the railroad. For the women what is striking is how few black Albuquerque women worked outside the home at this time. Only fifteen listed occupations and none of them were maids working in other people's homes. When they had a choice black women's labor did not enter the work world at this time.

Photo of Methodist Church in 1913 6

In 1912 the territory of New Mexico became a state and the 1920 census is the first to reflect that change. The 1920 manuscript census shows that while the size of the Albuquerque African American community did not increase much, most of the community were newcomers. These newcomers contained a group of highly educated African Americans who settled in the town from 1909 to 1915 and became the community leaders of the 1920's. They included S. W. Henry a teacher who began to edit an African American newspaper, the Southwest Review in 1924, James Dennis a medical doctor, T.M. Brinson a violinist graduate of Chicago Conservatory of Music and A.L. Mitchell a graduate of Wiley College in Texas. Several of the newcomers were retired Army veterans who had served in the African American 9th and 10th Cavalry or the 24th or 25 infantry. Although a few families did remain from 1910 an abnormal number of those who did stay had been widowed during the intervening ten years. New institutions had been formed such as a branch of the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized in 1913 but chartered in 1915 and an additional African American church, the Mount Olive Baptist Church organized in 1909 although its members had been meeting since 1898 led by Mrs. Tabaytha Watson with her son Green and daughter Anna. 7

Photo of Mt Olive Baptist Church 1915 8

A Third black church, God's House Church, was founded in 1916. It met in the house of its leader evangelist Emma Heil Pettiford and her husband Beverly Pettiford. It would not get its own church building until 1924.

In addition to the church organizations several other self-help organizations were founded during this period. In 1914 eight women became the charter members of the Home Circle Club which at first was part of the national Colored Women's Clubs but later struck out on its own. It was not only a women's social club it provided training in home economics, college scholarships for black youth and encouragement of black family life. In 1919 the Little Forum was formed with seven child charter members in the words of its founder to "[create an interest in attending high school, to attain and maintain a high standard in our manners and decorum…[and to promote] our social and intellectual advancement." A.L Mitchell, a former teacher who was prevented from teaching when he moved to Albuquerque because the Albuquerque school system would not hire black teachers, was put in charge of the club. 9

A branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was chartered in 1915 just six years after the national NAACP was formed. The NAACP had grown out of the black Albuquerque Independent Society because of discrimination faced in Albuquerque High School and elsewhere in Albuquerque public facilities. In 1907 the first African American girls scheduled to graduate from Albuquerque High School had to graduate from the high school section of the University of New Mexico instead when community members objected to their graduation although they had fulfilled all the requirements. It was not until 1914 that the first African American graduated with her class from Albuquerque High School. 10 No African American would be allowed to teach in the Albuquerque public schools until the 1950's decades later.

Such slights did not stop African American parents from sending their children to school. In 1900 almost two thirds of Albuquerque African Americans age 5 to 20 went to school. This was a higher percentage than New Mexican African Americans as a whole (42.9%) and U.S. born New Mexican whites (41.9%.) In 1910 the rate sank to 54%, less than New Mexican blacks as a whole (55.7%) and New Mexican whites (61.2%.) It recovered in 1920 to a whopping 83.3% surpassing the total of all New Mexican whites (66%) and even other urban blacks (70%.) The manuscript census shows that it was those children age five or six and those over 16 who were most likely not to be in school. In other words Albuquerque African Americans tended to start school a little later in life and leave a little earlier perhaps because they had to enter the workforce earlier.

The rates of illiteracy among Albuquerque African Americans had always been low. In 1900 when the rate of illiteracy for all of New Mexico was 30% the rate among Albuquerque blacks was only 11.4%. This Albuquerque African American illiteracy rate fell to 8.5% in 1910 and 4.8% in 1920. As comparison the rate of illiteracy in the United States and in New Mexico as a whole is provided in Table C as are the school attendance rates.

Table C

Illiteracy among those age 10+

  1900 1910 1920
Albuquerque Blacks 11.4% 8.5% 4.8%
All New Mexico 30.0% 20.2% 15.6%
United States 11.3% 7.7% 6.0%

Comparative School Attendance age 5 to 20

  1900 1910 1920
Albuquerque Blacks 65.6% 54.0% 83.3%
NM Blacks 42.9% 55.7% 45%
NM Whites 41.9% 61.2% 66%
Urban NM Blacks   62.4% 70%
Urban NM Whites   63.9% 68%

We have already seen that from the beginning of black settlement in Albuquerque African Americans were not just content to accept the roles that the white economy gave them: for example porters and janitors for the men, domestic service as cooks or maids for the women. In fact the list of occupations in the 1900 census for New Mexico territory is quite extensive ranging from military service, mining, agriculture and masonry to musicians or music teachers. They used those roles as stepping stones to their own entrepreneurial projects as early as the 1880's. The best examination of black entrepreneurship in this early period remains, remarkably, an undergraduate paper written at the University of New Mexico almost 40 years ago by John Joseph Ellis. Ellis makes two key points about this period. First for some people there was an oscillation between the roles in the white economy and black entrepreneurship:

Such businesses … usually operated out of the home, were supplements to the family income which allowed a skillful craftsman to use his abilities, under his own terms, in good times. When times were bad, the business could be put aside and one's labor hired out. 11

For all business the primary question was finding a market for your goods or services. Those business that could serve the entire Albuquerque market are the ones that fared best. In the 1880's and 90's there were black commercial farmers who could sell their produce to the New Albuquerque market. A remnant of this trade can be found after 1900 in a dairy owned and operated by Joseph and Lucinda market lasted all the way to the 1920's. In 1907 William T. Thornton established a carpet and clothes cleaning business which apparently had customers outside of Albuquerque as well. The first black owned restaurant and a black owned saloon popped up in 1908. African Americans owned barber shops, tailoring establishments, shoe making and repair shops, and billiard or pool parlors. They often opened businesses that relied on skills they had developed elsewhere like former cavalry scout George Hutchinson who opened a blacksmith shop next to his home in 1909. When any of these businesses were sold it was often to other African Americans first although many eventually passed into white ownership. 12

A second key point that Ellis makes is that black businesses could become important as sources of employment in the black community. He notes a sharp contrast between the businesses of the 1880's to 1900's and those of 1912 and beyond:

…before 1912, the ventures were usually small, short-lived, and generally served to supplement the incomes of single individuals and their households….none of the ventures had provided employment for Blacks outside the immediate family, and thereby few Blacks experienced employment and what training in business a full-blown enterprise could offer. 13

He feels that several businesses established after 1912 in contrast "provided jobs, experience and patronage for the black community," much as other ethnic businesses did. He attributes this 'sudden burst of activity" to undefined pressures on Blacks in the job market. 14 A prime example of this was the Bryant Messenger Service established by the Bryant brothers General, Heard and Willard. They emigrated from Texas in 1906 and at first worked as general labors and porters. They had bigger dreams than that and started to open their own businesses. General Bryant opened that first black owned restaurant in 1908 and a grocery store soon after. To supplement his income he worked as a porter in the Commercial Club where white business leaders met, relaxed and presumably made deals or exchanged information. His brother Heard became a partner in a shoemaking venture. In 1912 General and Heard Bryant opened to Bryant Messenger Service which gave employment to blacks as drivers or bicycle and motorcycle messengers as seen below. The company picked up baggage at the train station, carried messages to places without telephone service and delivered to the sanitaria where tuberculosis patients lived who had moved to Albuquerque because of the climate. 15

Photo of Bryant Messenger Service16

In contrast those ventures that relied on a predominantly African American clientele did not do as well. The Albuquerque African American community was too small to form commercially viable enterprises that catered to the community and at the same time too small to have the mainstream economy take its needs into account. There were few black professionals in New Mexico and only a couple in Albuquerque. A black lawyer arrived to set up a practice in 1912 but was gone by 1914. Attempts to found black newspapers and printing shops were usually short-lived. Albuquerque's first black doctor arrived in 1914 and managed to stay afloat.

Although the foundation had been laid by 1920 things had not changed much. As we can see from Table D not much had changed in the size or composition of the male population. The median age is a little older but the number of people in each category is roughly the same. For women the median age has gone up because there are significantly fewer children and more people have moved into the elder category.

Table D

Composition of Albuquerque Black Population Males Males Females Females
  1900 1920 1900 1920
Median Age 31 33 26 29
Children (14 and under) 26 28 38 20
Young Adult (15 to 34) 41 39 51 44
Mature Adult (35 to 64) 57 58 35 39
Elder (65 and older) 1 4 2 9
Total 125 129 126 112

One thing that had changed was that the black population of Albuquerque was becoming a smaller part of the city. From 1900 to 1920 Albuquerque's total population had risen from about 6200 to a little over 15,000 while the African American population had basically stayed the same or even dropped a little to a bit over 200. The result was that as a percentage of Albuquerque's population African Americans had dropped from 4% to 1%.

The occupations open to African Americans in the economy hadn't changed much. Of the black males age fourteen or older 80 or about 78% of them were employed and a third worked for the railroad. Only 28 or about 30% of black women age 14 or older were employed twelve or about 43% were employed in private homes. Table E lists the top occupations for Albuquerque black males and females in 1920:

Table E

Occupation % Black Males Occupation % Black females
Porter 28.8% Domestic 53.6%
Laborer 16.3% Cook 14.3%
Janitor 8.8% Laundress 10.7%
Cook 8.8% Nurse 7.1%
Minister 5.0% Manicurist 3.6%
Barber 5.0% Hairdresser 3.6%
Servant 3.8% Seamstress 3.6%
Farmer 2.5% Stenographer 3.6%
Physician 2.5%    

Almost 63% of the males were employed as porters, laborers, janitors and cooks. Among black females almost 80% were domestic servants, cooks and laundresses. Interestingly less than a quarter of the males were unemployed by the mainstream economy but over two thirds of the women were able to withhold their labor from the dominant economy and yet get by.

So by 1920 the economic parameters had been set, the key social institutions were in place and many of the key actors had arrived. In the next two decades the population was to rise, social prejudices were to increase, and the state of the nation was to intrude on a black community that was simply trying to build a life for itself. The community was to find a voice for itself and its ambitions, but that voice was to fade away.

  1. In 1920 New Mexico's black population is skewed by the presence of some 3600 African American troops in Columbus, NM. They were protecting the border after Pancho Villa's 1916 incursion into New Mexico. Their residence in New Mexico was anomalous and temporary so for the purposes of this analysis I have excluded them from my tally. An interesting story about them is told in Horace Daniel Nash, "Community Building on the Border: The Role of the 24th Infantry Band at Columbus, New Mexico, 1916-1922," in Bruce Glasrud, African Americans in New Mexico, ebook location 2538.
  2. In 1900 the Census Bureau defined urban as living in a place with 2500 residents.
  3. Negroes in the United States, 1904, Government Printing Office, Bureau of the Census, p. 38
  4. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p. 30 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  5. Albuquerque City Directory and Business guide for 1901, p 19, 34 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  6. Picture from Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers.
  7. Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers, p. 26.
  8. Picture from Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers.
  9. Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers, pp. 40-41, 48-49.
  10. Barbara Richardson, Black Pioneers, p. 26.
  11. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p. 15 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  12. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p. 14 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  13. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p. 23 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  14. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, p. 26 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  15. John Joseph Ellis, "Albuquerque's Black Entrepreneurs 1880-1933," paper submitted for American Urban History 362, October 11, 1976, pp. 23-24 Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library.
  16. Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico Library, William Cobb Memorial Photography Collection 000-119-0482.