COLORES | Blackdom | New Mexico PBS

COLORES | Blackdom | New Mexico PBS

>>A small town once lived here, in the wide
open spaces of opportunity. It was a modest town on the plains of the
New Mexico territory. A few wood-frame buildings held together with little more than pioneer
pride. Over there stood a general store.
Here, a church and a school house. Down the road were small homes with green
gardens. Life here was primitive and much was improvised. Lard and pot ash were used
for soap. Whole buildings were toppled in the strong prarie wind. But with each passing
season, more people came here to settle. For this was a place where dreams were possible.
It was a place of freedom. Begun in the early 1900s, this pioneer town
was different than most built in the west. It was heralded as the first exclusive negro
settlement in the New Mexico territory. It was a place where blacks could truly be free.
A planned colony, where they could determine their own destiny and not be attacked and
harmed because of the color of their skin. A man from Georgia, Frank Boyer, founded this
town and called it Blackdom. It was more than a claim staked in the dirt. Moral stewardship,
personal freedom and ethnic pride, these were the corner stones Boyer used to support families
and build a community.>>A leader is someone who can motivate people
to do things that they have not done before. So here is Francis Boyer motivating people
to say yes, we can establish a whole township. It’s possible, people. We can name the town.
We can name the streets. We can have our own schools. We can have our own post office.
We have these skills. That’s the knapsack of experiences we brought from the period
of slavery. Let’s do it. That was the leadership.>>Little is known about Frank Boyer, and the
town of Blackdom. History has often overlooked the contributions of African Americans.
>>I think black history in itself is a compilation of just about everyone’s history because of
the diversity of the different ethnic groups that would be involved in black history. History
itself cannot be taught in a vacuum. One of the things that has been done in the past
is that the Eurocentric thought of history has been somewhat in a vacuum, to the point
where it has eliminated the contributions made by other groups, especially blacks.
>>Boyer was a child in Georgia when he first heard about the West, his imagination sparked
by his Father’s memory of the vast, unclaimed land of the Southwest. Frank’s father was
Henry Boyer, a free negro from Pullam, Georgia, who served as a wagoneer in Col. Alexander
Doniphan’s army of Missouri volunteers, fighting in the Mexican American war. Henry was not
the only black to see the potential of a new start in the western frontier. Blacks had
gone west as part of the military, as workers on the railroad, as cowboys, fur trappers,
and colonists.>>Most people simply believe that the first
blacks that came to America were slaves. That is not necessarily true. The early blacks
that came here to explore with the Spanish came to this country, they weren’t all slaves.
Some of them were soldiers, some were free men, just like the Spanish citizens.
>>The west really was somewhat uncharted territory. A man was gauged by his ability and his skills
and his character moreso than the color of his skin.
>>After the war, Henry went home to Georgia, enchanted by the west and undoubtedly imprssed
upon his family the opportunity for a future in the unspoiled New Mexico territory. Henry
never returned, but his son Frank grew up listening to his father’s tales and the words
of the black leaders of the time.>>I Believe in the pride of race and the lineage
of self, in pride of self so deep as to scorn injustice to other selves especially do I
believe in the negro race, in the beauty of its genius, the sweetness of its soul and
its strength in that meekness, which shall yet inherit this turbulent earth.
>>This period after the Emancipation Proclamation is probably one of the most interesting and
exciting periods of the experience of black, the black race in this country and just Black
America in general because, never before had a group had to decide how shall we live out
our lives.>>At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom
of religion,there must be for our race, economic independence.
>>Let’s look at the contemporaries, of Frances, there was a D.W.Bou, Book T. Washington, of
that era. Certainly, he was influenced by those influences were influenced by the people
that we live with during over time. He was influence and what he saw perhaps as I tried
to imagine the energy and the enthusiasm and motion that gripped him, that we, we needed
a Moses. Someone that would lead people out of continued Jim Crow Laws after the Emancipation
Proclamation. So here is a man being influenced by the contemporaries of his time. Saying
that there is something in me that says that black people in this country, the negro people
can have a better life.>>humming
>>Frank grew up in the years after the Civil War. A time when blacks had never experienced
so much opportunity, and so much hatred. They were becoming teachers, lawyers, business
men. In reaction southern politicians sought to destroy their rights, while violence threatened
their daily lives. In 1877 reconstruction failed. Union troops left, and angry mobs
killed nearly 2000 blacks.>>The were essentially forced to segregate.
They couldn’t read or write. Those conditions were miserable. You couldn’t vote, you couldn’t
participate in the democracy. You weren’t respected, and if you saw a white person walking
down the street you had to get off the curb and walk in the middle of the street. So it
was a stressful time of poverty and being hated for who you are.
>>Escape seemed impossible, blacks migrating north faced over crowding and unemployment.
Many tried to leave the country all together and flee to Liberia. Those that remained in
the south suffered under a new form of slavery,share cropping.
>>The life of the average family was extremely hard, because in theory they were free, but
the reality of that was just like the reality of share cropping. It said you’re earning
a living, but yet at the end of the year, you were deeper in debt, you were tied more
to the land. So many things had been stripped from the average black family, but they saw
no other choice but to go and find the separate place where they could live as separate individuals.
>>The west was anew start, where the future was not predetermined, but invented. It was
an incredible notion to own land and to raise children without fear of racial violence.
The Homestead Act provided lands to all families, regardless of race, as long as they improved
the land and stayed on it at least one year. Blacks had the opportunity to do what was
never possible before, to create their own future, to be free. Black communities sprouted
from Kansas to California with the greatest concentration in the Oklahoma territory. This
migration was much larger then what is recorded in the history books. Nearly 40,000 blacks
alone migrated to Kansas, between 1877 and 1880 during the Ex-or-duster Movement.
>>In the west, a lot of times they were going completely without any realization of what
this might mean, but they were willing to take that chance. They felt we had no other
choice, we either become subjected to this ongoing oppression or we begin to take our
lives in our hands.>>So the west was an escape, there of. There
was a haven, the promise land. It was like a magnet, drawing people from something bad.
It was like the legacy of the children of Israel, leaving an oppressed bondage and going
to find freedom, and to establish their own property on their own land.
>>Educated, charismatic, proud, and poor Frank Boyr grew up in these times and also wanted
to leave the south, but realized first that he must complete his education. Working his
way through school, he eventually graduated from Moore House University and began to teach.Frank
had the courage to teach black history to his students, and extraordinary idea at the
time and one for which he was severely rep-amended. Frank continued his work in black history
during his free time and traced his own roots to the Eboo people of Nigeria.
>>My grandfather always wanted to teach black history. He wanted them to know what was going
on. He felt like they needed to know their roots for them to figure out where they were
going to go from then on. What he really liked was the fact that he knew the tribe from which
he came. The Eboo tribe, they were more of a intellectual type people. and they went
like in government, and so he just knew that he had some stock, that he could work with.
>>Teaching jobs were scarce and unstable. To find work Frank traveled all over the south
on foot. As he would settle into each area, his dream of an all black community began
to take shape.>>Francis said, “I must do this.” and you
can see this developing as a young man, going to Florida, trying to start an African city.
You can see him in Putmund Georgia, you know trying to start another all black city. So
it was in his genes, it was in his emotions, it was in his desires to say, “where can we
go to form this land?”>>Frank met and fell in love with Ellen Gruder.
She was also a school teacher, a graduate from Hans institute in Georgia. Ellen was
a woman of tremendous character, who also longed for a better life. Frank and Ellen
married and had three sons and a daughter in Georgia.
>>The decade between 1890 and 1900 was the most dangerous time for a black man to be
alive. Frank saw first hand the brutality of that decade. He witnessed a white costumer
kill a black barber for knicking him while shaving. A jury found the white man innocent
of murder, after all they said, “the black barber had knicked him twice.”
>>From what I can understand from Boyer he had never seen a killing, but when he sees
this with his own eyes, it was like life had no meaning. And it’s got to be dis-concerning
to say you know, nobody got angry about this. You know, so what do we do about this? Do
we just let it go like that? So i think he’s had it, enough is enough, and I’m going to
leave.>>Frank Boyer left the south, with little
more than the clothes on his back and the fathers tales of the west in his pocket. Ellen
would stay behind in Georgia until Frank settled and sent for her and the children. Frank did
not journey alone, for one of his students Dan Keys joined him. Together they walked
nearly 2000 miles to the promised land. To the wide opened spaces of the New Mexico territory.
>>Music with lyrics>>To survive the exhausting trip they took
on odd jobs and did what they had to.>>Dan Keys, sometimes they would get in towns
where they would shoot at your feet and make you dance, you know. He was angry, but it
was a controlled anger because, what could he do about it? You know? You couldn’t stop
it.>>Accepting being an outcast was simply a
challenge. So these were simply trails that test you in the fire. And the hotter the test,
the more pure you are. And no doubt that walk he was being refined and being developed and
encouraged and strengthened, spiritually.>>Over a year, after they have left Georgia,
Boyer and Keys arrived in the Pecos River Valley near Roswell in 1898. Frank worked
odd jobs for local ranchers to save money and to bring out Ellen and the children. They
arrived in Dexter in 1901. Frank hadn’t seen Ellen in nearly 3 years.
>>Ellen, to me, must have been a very remarkable woman. She was willing to wait and she was
ready to assume that journey herself and take on whatever waited at the other end. And if
you could imagine how long that and how hard that must have been, not knowing when her
husband would be back to get her, but her determination seems to be, “I’ll stick with
him, no matter what.” and I think that made her a remarkable woman. We almost don’t know
whose dream that it is at this point which is very naive to think about.
>>Frank and Ellen first settled in Dexter, raising their family and planning for the
future. They farmed acres of hay and alfalfa. They were making their own decisions, running
their own lives, and on the verge of making their dream come true. As soon as Frank and
Ellen broke ground for the first planting, Frank set out to create the community he had
planned for, for so many years. A separate colony, where there was no one to help and
no one to hinder.>>Frank Boyer was a bright young man, and
very enterprising. He was a practical man, he built a school with the help of his students.
He founded townships, so he was very bright, he knew how to fill out forms, he knew how
to get things legally documented. He knew a lot that a lot of black people didn’t have
access to. So my picture of him is a strong man who knew what he wanted, knew what he
believed in and was willing to take some big chances to see that those things happened.
>>The town of Blackton began on this barren piece of land. About 18 miles southwest of
Roswell. Today it looks un-liveable, but at the beginning of the century it was a lush
garden. Summer rain and winter snow fall had been plentiful for years, and dry land farming
was liable. What made this land rich, however, was the discovery Artesan water. Just below
the surface bubbled millions of gallons of water, gushing out of shallow wells. After
many attempts, sacrifices, and struggle their dream became reality.
>>Music with lyrics>>The Boyer family moved here into a modest
room home. Frank advertised in southern newspapers to offer blacks a better way of life under
the vast western sky. Families from the south began to arrive and state claims in Blackton.
Frank and Ellen invited new arrivals into their home and supported them sometimes for
months. The sacrifice meant little to Frank. With each new bird, Blackton grew and the
dream prospered.>>That was an investment, not only survival
again, but that was an investment in your children.
>>Although the town was not incorporated until 1921, from 1902 to the mid 20’s black families
continued to arrive and prosper under New Mexico’s blue sky. A church was built and
used as a school house. Many children began an education for the very first time.
>>Emphasis was being placed on preparing their children for not only the 20th century but
the 21st century. And at the heart of the society was education.
>>Daily life in Blackton centered around the basic necessity’s. The quest for food, water,
clothing, and shelter. Every member of the family worked. Still residents in the town
regularly attended church and bonded together in times of both strive and celebration. June
10th Emancipation Day was a big holiday. Every year the residents of Blackton invited white
ranchers to celebrate with an afternoon of good food and a game of baseball.
>>There was limited that brought the community together. People look forward to the major
event, it happened every year with something to do. You know? There wasn’t a whole lot
of entertainment, and this was entertainment for the whole day, it was a whole day that
was spent that way from morning till sun down.>>Like many prarrie towns, Blackton had it’s
struggles.>>I would imagine life in Blackton was very
difficult. The winds blew across at furocious speeds. But when you think of the every day
lives, the emotional lives, it had to be even harder. Here you are, you are cut away from
the family you’ve known in the south, and you’ve got to remember, black people are very
family oriented. It’s got to be a very lonely life. You have to depend on yourself for many
of the things that you need.>>Winters were harsh. Strong gusty winds could
dislodge a building, and kill livestock. For years persistance Blackton alive, but the
weather began to fail. In 1960 worms invaded the crops. Alchalide build up began to poison
the soil. The summer rain and the winter snows disappeared. And suddenly the Artesian water
began to dry up. Most of the men had to work on nearby white farms to support their families.
>>The husband would have to go off, work on somebody else’s farm, come back just to add
a little shed in the back. The citizens called it the proving up. So they would say, “My
father would have to proof up every year.” meaning he would have to make some improvement
on his land to fulfill the homestead requirements. It was very hard to make a living.
>>To make Blackdon a true town in the eyes of New Mexico’s laws, Frank and Ellen Boyer
filed a plant for the town site in 1921. Blackdon consisted of 40 acres and 166 lots. But by
the time the papers were filed, too many wells tapped into the Attesian water, lowering the
water table. Although the town had prospered and a dream was realized, the water that had
made the town possible was gone. And by the time Blackton was officially recognized, it’s
life was nearly over.>>It didn’t fail because of any human actions.
It failed because of nature.>>Residents moved to Roswell, Dexter, and
Las Cruces. Frank and Ellen’s family were some of the last to leave. The bank already
having foreclosed on their home.>>Blackton? What does it really mean? It means
that our people that were weird and slavery and treated as animals and not considered
human, yet had dreams.>>The pioneering spirit lives on in the Boyer
family today. A glimse of the 220 Boyer family reunion is a testament to the success of Frank
and Ellen Boyer’s dream. What began with one man lives as a legacy for a generation.
>>This is a dream come true, one that I never thought I”d ever see this. I really didn’t
and here’s grandpas, wait hold on this would be what how many grandsons? Wait great great
granddaughter standing on the site where great grandma my grandmother and my grandfather
dreams came here from Georgia. Look at that . So here you are almost 100 years later and
you’re standing on the same site. You like it? Yeah, Okay. Alright. Well go around and
see if you can find something else. Okay. Grandpa, I just want to tell you that, that
I am thankful to you for your instilling in me, personally, the atitude that it can be
done, if you work at it.

11 thoughts on “COLORES | Blackdom | New Mexico PBS

  1. What would any commentators say to the theory that the only way Blacks are going to live truly free is to found their own independent countries modeled on settlements much like this one? 

  2. My name is Antoine Boyer. Frank Boyer is my Great Grandfather and Francis Boyer is my Grandfather!! Much love to you all!!

  3. My name is Sam Smith. I work with KVIA-TV in El Paso, and we're trying to put together a piece on Blackdom. If any descendants of Frank and Ella Boyer are willing to talk to me on camera, please reach out to me. (915) 204-8714 is my work cell number. Thank you in advance.

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