Many of us are familiar with the Greenwood Community of North Tulsa Oklahoma where blacks built the most prominent community of their time. Deemed “The Golden Door” of opportunity for blacks, the dollar in “Little Africa” circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community, hence its nickname “Black Wall Street” along with “Little Africa” before its systematic destruction that left it torn and desolate. But it wasn’t until my trip to New Mexico this past week that I discovered other communities that are also worthy of inclusion in Black Wall Street’s Hall of Fame.
Blackdom was a little known African American community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell New Mexico and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the free territory of the West before sending for his family some three years later. At this time in history Blacks had begun migrating from the south in great numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. According to a 2001 archaeological study on the Blackdom region from the Museum of New Mexico, “During the decade of the 1870s, 9,500 blacks from Kentucky and Tennessee migrated to Kansas. By 1880 there were 43,110 blacks in Kansas.”
The Homestead Act gave room for former slaves and free born blacks to reside in the West regardless of race. Here was an abundance of land, free and fertile to anyone who could keep it up. Influenced by W.E.B. Dubois and Frederick Douglass according to historians, Frank was a graduate of Morehouse University and a teacher of Black History which at this time was not very popular. He met his wife, Ella McGruder, a graduate from Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, at a teacher’s summer school session. The couple had four children (three sons, one daughter) when Frank set out for New Mexico in 1896.
The desire and influence to build community was first conceived in the mind of Frank’s father, Henry Boyer, a free man. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. When he came home, he told stories to his family of the land. Growing up during the Reconstruction Era, after the Civil War, Frank naturally grew up with his father’s dreams in his head and saw the West as the Promised Land to a new start. Ironically, the same life force that made Blackdom thrive as a community was also its downfall. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school, and post office. However, the Artesian Wells eventually dried up and citizens were forced to move to nearby cities such as Roswell to continue their lives. The Boyer family were the last to leave.
After Emancipation, in theory black people were free. They were released from the physical chains of bondage. This freedom however, much like sharecropping, said that one could be self-sufficient by earning a profit, but by the end of the year the amount of debt incurred was a reality check concerning the freedom, or lack therof that actually existed. In the same way, Emancipation didn’t mean anything for a people who continued to suffer spiritually, financially, and mentally from the trials of chattel slavery. For this reason, not all blacks settled to continue occupation in the South but many of them invested in the hard work that slavery demanded and sought to use those skills to work their own lands and build their own communities. These stories fascinate me because it is a part of black history that is rarely, if ever, told. Not all blacks endured economic struggle and poverty after slavery but some, if only for a moment, maintained an air of economic dependency and not only succeeded, but prospered in the process.