Albuquerque Celebrates Kwanzaa, a Cultural Holiday
Long-time educator Brenda Dabney indicates that she was among the first to introduce the celebration of Kwanzaa to Albuquerque. Kwanzaa is a unique African American celebration with a focus on the traditional African values of unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious. It is a time to reaffirm African-American people, their ancestors, and culture.
Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest” in the African language Kiswahili. Since its inception in 1966 more than 18 million people worldwide have observed Kwanzaa, among them a number of Blacks in Albuquerque. Kwanzaa is a festival celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together to celebrate their rich, ancient and diverse African culture.
Albuquerque Celebrates Juneteenth
Restauranteur Josef Powdrell began the Albuquerque Juneteenth celebration 30 years ago along with Nazim Pasha, an American Muslim, Ed Johnson, a vocalist and employee of U.S. West, and Clarence Smith. Historically, Juneteenth is African American Independence Day signaling the end of slavery in the Southwest. It commemorates the day when Union General Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, freeing 250,000 slaves in the Lone Star state. This was on June 19, 1865, over two and one-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Though the Emancipation Proclamation and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution legally freed Blacks, they were largely unable to vote or purchase property.
“Black Codes were in existence and still are in some cases,” states Ron Hinson, long-time Albuquerque Juneteenth Celebration Committee chairman.“Blacks needed permission to come into towns. The codes were used to isolate Blacks economically. Slaves or ex-slaves were kept in positions where they could not advance by real estate covenants, redlining, and steering.”
The United States Congress recognized Juneteenth or “the 19th of June” as America’s second Independence Day through the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56 in 1997. In the 2006 legislative session, New Mexico became the 19th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. With the passage of HB 226 sponsored by Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, “Juneteenth Freedom Day” was established as a state holiday on the third Saturday in June. There is also a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday throughout the United States.
“Americans need to understand that there is no distinction between Black History and American History,” explains Hinson. He explains that “Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is celebrated to mark the end of slavery and to honor those who endured slavery, especially those who moved from slavery to freedom.”
The traditional outdoor Albuquerque Juneteenth celebrations include music, traditional foods, African educational/cultural displays, African art, children’s programs, African storytellers, and fashion shows. Musical entertainment often includes popular jazz vocalist Michael Herndon, gospel choirs, and local bands. The African American hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song which began each day of school in segregated schools in New Mexico and throughout the South, is sung.
Hinson states that Juneteenth’s growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America that is long overdue. He states: “In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities, and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today.”
Traditional sponsors of Albuquerque’s Juneteenth festivities include: Intel Corporation, the City of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Human Rights Office, the Bank of Belen, Rick Johnson & Company, Honeywell Human Resources, Isshin Ryu Club, and the Thomas Bell Community Center.
State of New Mexico Office of African American Affairs
New Mexico State Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton was instrumental in the passage of House Bill 909 that established the State Office of African American Affairs in 1999. The objectives of the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs are to enhance the quality of life for African Americans in the state and to increase responsible participation of Blacks in all facets of New Mexico’s continuing growth and development.
The mission of the Office is to:
*Study, identify, and recommend solutions to issues of concern relevant to African Americans;
*Ensure recognition of the accomplishments and contributions by African Americans in New Mexico and the United States; and
*Act as an advocate for African American citizens of New Mexico.
The goals of the Office of African American Affairs concern education, health care, teen pregnancy, crime and incarceration, housing, and substance abuse in the Black community.
Sylvester “Butch” Brown was appointed the first Executive Director by Governor Gary Johnson. Alice Faye Kent Hoppes was appointed the second Executive Director by Governor Bill Richardson in 2002. When Mrs. Hoppes passed away in 2003, Doris Fields served as Interim Director.
Governor Bill Richardson appointed Dr. Harold Bailey as Executive Director of the Office of African American Affairs in 2003. Dr. Bailey continues to hold this position.
African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico
Tonya Covington, former President of the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico, also states that few people are aware of the history of Blacks in the state. She indicates that the word “cowboy” was a term first used to describe Black men often referred to as “boys” who were working with cattle. She states that one-third of all the early cowboys in the West were Black. Another little known fact is that the first business owner in Santa Fe was an African American.
Covington states that in light of the lack of information about Black history in New Mexico outside of the Black community, in the fall of 2002 the Director of the Office of African American Affairs, Butch Brown, and the Director of the University of New Mexico African American Student Services, Scott Carreathers, invited all interested Black community organizations to a meeting to discuss the formation of a museum to house the history of African Americans in the state. Representatives and individuals from more than 50 organizations convened. The consensus of the community was that the time was right to begin the official push for an African American Museum of New Mexico.
The group established a working committee, and the organizing began. The committee researched other African American museums across the country and contacted the Association of African American Museums. The information gathered would assure that the New Mexico Museum would not suffer the same problems that other museums had encountered. In the two years since its inception, the working group has formed a Board of Directors, acquired non-profit status, exhibited historical photographs at several venues, and is currently pursuing a building that will house the collection of photographs and artifacts.
Carter Woodson, founder of Negro History Week in 1926, said “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history.” Covington says that the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico seeks to do just that.
Blacks have made major contributions in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts to Albuquerque and New Mexican culture. Gospel singing remains strong in Albuquerque churches though many of the earlier traditional styles of music such as string band music are no longer practiced in the community. In the 1920’s through 1940’s there were Black swing musicians as well as a restaurant and lounge called’“Chet & Pert’s” that entertained Black residents. After segregation laws were banned, many Black jazz players began appearing in local clubs. Albuquerque has also produced talented classical players and award-winning Black storytellers. There are also talented visual artists including painters, potters, woodcarvers, and quilters.
Three of the many prominent artists on the current Albuquerque arts scene include:
Linda Cotton is known throughout the world for her melodious musical interpretations from gospel to contemporary jazz. She has performed throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. She has received numerous awards for her contributions to the community including “Woman on the Move” from the YWCA and “Footprints” from the NAACP. Her fundraisers for people living with AIDS, children, and the homeless as well as for the arts and civic causes won her the “Albuquerque Community Foundation Award.”
Ramona King is a weaver of tales, fantasies, and dreams. She has performed at the New Mexico State Capitol Building for African American Day and at the White House for its annual Family Easter Event. In August 2003 she appeared as the storyteller among Divas of New Mexico for “SaVvi Fair,” a Rape Crisis Center fundraising event. She was also one of three local artists chosen to conduct a post- concert workshop with Sweet Honey in the Rock, a South African a capella group. She is featured among fellow storytellers on the award winning CD “Rainbow Tales.” King attended Cornell University and the University of New Mexico where she received her degree in education. She has taught in New Mexico and New York.
Awadagin Pratt, an Albuquerque resident, launched his career as a classical pianist when he won the Naumburg Competition in 1992. Currently College- Conservatory of Music Piano Professor with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pratt often returns to his home and performs solos with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He is noted for his unconventional dreadlocks and athletic build. Pratt is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland.
Conclusion: Lift Every Voice and Sing
The history of Blacks in Albuquerque and New Mexico reflected in this Booklet shows African Americans to be a strong and resilient people able to face and surmount obstacles at every turn. The Booklet indicates that Black history told by Blacks reveals a steady stream of resourceful individuals from the early explorers, to the settlers arriving to found Black towns like Blackdom after the Civil War, to the Buffalo Soldiers who fought with phenomenal bravery to protect those living on the frontier. It also reveals that Blacks and others organized in the 1950’s through the 1960’s to work for civil rights legislation in Albuquerque years before such legislation passed on the state and national levels.
This ability to persevere in the face of adversity is also reflected in the words and music of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem. This is the song that was sung at the beginning of every school day in segregated schools in southern New Mexico and across the South. It is still sung at annual Juneteenth celebrations and other events in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico. Somewhat somber, yet full of faith and hope in the future, the song reflects the dark past but remains certain that in the future liberty will prevail.
Composed by John Rosamond Johnson with the lyrics written by his brother, James Weldon Johnson, the song was written in 1900 for a birthday celebration for Abraham Lincoln. James Weldon Johnson was then a school principal in Jacksonville, Florida, and his brother John Rosamond Johnson was a music teacher. James Weldon Johnson went on to become Executive Secretary of the NAACP, and the NAACP adopted “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as its official song. Julian Bond, former NAACP Chairman, says that even all these decades later, the song still holds deep meaning for the civil rights movement. He states, “When people stand and sing it, you just feel a connectedness with the song, with all the people who’ve sung it on numerous occasions, happy and sad over the 100 years before.”
The words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” follow:
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, Our God, where we met
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our GOD,
True to our native land.