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African American Legacy Symposiums Jan. 26, Feb. 9


Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University presents two symposiums about New Mexico’s African American Legacy Jan. 26 and Feb. 9.

The Jan. 26 symposium is titled The Migration of African Americans to Northern New Mexico. The Feb. 9 symposium is titled The Impact of the African American Athlete on New Mexico Highlands University. Both symposiums are from 1 – 3 p.m. in the university’s Donnelly Library, 802 National Ave.

The symposiums, in collaboration with the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico, coincide with the pictorial history exhibit, New Mexico’s African American Legacy – Visible, Vital and Valuable, on display through Feb. 21 at the university’s Ray Drew Gallery in Donnelly Library. February is Black History Month.

“These symposiums will offer insight into the contributions of the New Mexico African American community to the rich history of Northern New Mexico and its culture,” said Bob Read, curator for the Ray Drew Gallery and the university’s fine arts librarian. “This exhibit sheds light on a little-discussed and important part of the state’s history. The exhibit has a powerful impact when you enter the gallery.”

The African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico developed the exhibit and the symposiums. Rita Powdrell is the cultural center board president.

“This exhibit focuses on the African American migration to New Mexico after the Civil War,” Powdrell said. “They were seeking greater freedoms and opportunities, looking for jobs as cowboys, trappers, traders, soldiers, miners, railroad workers, servants, entrepeneurs, teachers, and skilled laborers.

“These African American pioneers became intricately woven into the history of the territory and the state. This is a history filled with richness, dignity, persistence, faith and perseverance that contributed to the history of New Mexico,” Powdrell said.

Powdrell added that Highlands University has a long history of working with African American athletes, providing scholarships for their education.

“Highlands was one of the leading universities in recruiting African American athletes in the 1950s,” Powdrell said.

Powdrell said that previous symposiums helped generate leads for developing more historical panels for the exhibit specific to each location.

“We always collect a lot of interesting history at the symposiums,” Powdrell said. “It’s a very reciprocal exchange of information.”

To date, the New Mexico’s African American Legacy exhibit contains 36 panels of four communities: Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Raton and Santa Fe. Each panel contains striking historical photos combined with text.

Previously, the exhibit was on display at locations like the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque and the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.

Read said Casa de Cultura was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to Highlands. Miguel Angel, the executive director, and Georgina Ortega, the program director, saw the exhibit and contacted Prowdell.

At Highlands, reference library associate Victoria Berry is researching the Donnelly Library archives and special collections for local African American history that might someday become panels in the exhibit.

The New Mexico’s African American Legacy exhibit is sponsored by the McCune Foundation, New Mexico Humanities Council, New Mexico Office of African American Affairs, and public donations.

The mission of the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico is to increase awareness and understanding of the contributions of people of African descent, with emphasis on New Mexico and the Southwest.

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