A couple of years ago I did a brief post about a New Mexico town founded by black settlers because a documentary was being crowdfunded. During Black History Month, let’s learn more about the short-lived town!
Blackdom was a town built 20 miles south of Roswell, in central New Mexico. It was founded in 1903 by black pioneers Frank and Ella Boyer.
Frank Boyer was raised hearing stories about New Mexico from his father, Henry Boyer, a Freedman from Pullam, GA, and a wagoner with the army units of Kearny during the Mexican-American War in 1846. Frank Boyer studied to be a minister at what is now Morehouse College. While in school, he learned about the legal requirements for homesteading. Frank started teaching in Georgia and soon married Ella Louise Boyer (née McGruder), herself a teacher graduated from the Haines Institute.
Frank began encouraging African-Americans to report and challenge abuses stemming from Jim Crow laws. When his life was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan, Frank’s father encouraged him to move to the West for his safety. In 1896, Frank traveled to New Mexico with two students, Daniel Keyes (who married Ella’s sister Willie Frances) and another friend (with the last name of Ragsdale). They traveled on foot, picking up day labor work along the way. Ella and their four children followed in 1901.
Using the Homestead Act of 1862 (which let you keep up to 160 acres if you lived on it for 5 years), it was their dream to create a colony for black Americans that was out of the reach of the Klu Klux Klan and the new Jim Crow laws in the South. Blackdom was the only all-black town in the territory, and by 1908, it was booming with 300-400 black settlers, and was home to many businesses, a church, a school, and a newspaper. In 1912, a post office was added. Boyer also brought black freemasonry to the county establishing the first masonic lodge in 1914.
“Here the black man has an equal chance with the white man. Here you are reckoned at the value which you place upon yourself. Your future is in your own hands.” – Lucy Henderson, in a letter to the editor of The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, trying to persuade others to move to Blackdom
Blackdom was founded during a plentiful rainy period. The settlers quickly learned just how hard life could be in this desert, though, when a drought started in 1916. Many people moved from the town because of the drought and irrigation issues, and also because young men joined the military when the US entered World War I.
Oil was found in 1919, and so Blackdom residents created the Blackdom Oil Company. The single largest investor was Mittie Moore Wilson, an African-American brothel owner in Roswell. Blackdom Oil contracted with the New York-based National Exploration Company to drill wells in the area.
In 1927, the town gathered and celebrated Juneteenth (a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865 – the day that Union General Gordon Granger issued General Order #3, at Galveston, Texas, setting free all remaining African American bondsmen held in Texas.) The residents of Blackdom hosted their white neighbors with a baseball game and barbecue.
Oil couldn’t save the town from water scarcity and the Great Depression, and so the town of Blackdom was dissolved in 1930.
“Blackdom represents a bold step towards challenging and eliminating the oppressive forces that existed facing African American people. Blackdom remains forever imprinted in our psyche and our spirit to resist and our spirit to overcome and our spirit to establish our identity in the southwest.” – UNM Director of Africana Studies Charles Becknell Jr.