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The Civil Rights Era in Albuquerque

In 1910, when Albuquerque’s Black population was 244, the city’s Black residents worked as barbers, cooks, porters, and beauticians. There was segregation and discrimination in public accommodation so there was a need for Black boarding houses. There were restrictive covenants preventing Blacks from purchasing property in certain neighborhoods. Theaters, restaurants, drugstores refused to serve Blacks or forced them to wait until Whites and Hispanics were served.

Five men and one woman founded the Albuquerque National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in 1915. One of its first activities that year was the chapter paying the tuition of Birdie Hardin in her unsuccessful attempt to enroll in the University of New Mexico (UNM) to challenge its racial exclusion policy. In 1921 UNM finally allowed open admission to all qualified students. Nine years later, Romero Lewis, son of a local physician, became the first Black medical graduate of UNM. The NAACP also helped maintain integrated schools in Albuquerque, though other communities including Alamogordo, Tucumcari, Clovis, Roswell, Artesia, Hobbs, Las Cruces, and Carlsbad took advantage of a 1925 state law to establish segregated schools. The NAACP fought discrimination in city and county employment and in public accommodations. Places of public accommodation included resorts, amusement parks, restaurants, hotels, and motels.

The Black population in Albuquerque grew slowly from 213 in 1920 to 613 in 1950. In the post-war period Blacks joined with Hispanics to launch a direct action campaign to end discrimination. In September 1947 the University newspaper, the New Mexico Lobo, published an article describing how George Long, a university student, was denied service at a nearby café. University students boycotted the restaurant, forcing the management to change its policy. Three months later university students successfully boycotted a downtown Walgreen’s. This student support for militancy generated the first University NAACP chapter.

Using a Portland, Oregon, anti-discrimination ordinance as a model, Herbert Wright, the first Black UNM student body president, and George Long, then a UNM law student, worked for two years to write the Albuquerque Civil Rights Ordinance that prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodations, enacted by the city commission on Lincoln’s birthday in 1952. The students had formed a coalition with off-campus organizations including the NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance, and the G. I. Forum, labor unions, and the Catholic Archdiocese to enact the first civil rights ordinance in the intermountain west.

“Notes from Community Seminar on Integrated Housing,” a program at the University
of New Mexico Student Union in October 1960, indicate that discrimination in public accommodations in Albuquerque had come into focus when the Dean of San Jose College in California wrote that a foreign exchange student from Ceylon had stopped in Albuquerque en route to California and had been refused food in a city restaurant.

The Ordinance is believed to be one of the earlier municipal ordinances passed in the U.S. since the beginning of WWII. It prohibited discrimination in places of public accommodation, predating both federal and state civil rights public accommodation
laws. The Ordinance prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin or ancestry. Those who violated the Ordinance were subject to a fine up to $300 or imprisonment in the City jail or both. Businesses with two or more violations during any twelve month period were subject to having their licenses revoked. Three years after the Ordinance was passed, the state legislature enacted a similar statute, nine years before the Congress passed Title VII of the national Civil Rights Act.

The 1952 Civil Rights Ordinance did not transform the lives of most Black New
Mexicans. More than 8,000 Blacks, or 1.2% of the population, lived in Albuquerque in 1950. Most lived on the city’s east side and were unskilled laborers. The NAACP was the only Black civil rights organization in the state. By the early 1950’s it had grown from the Albuquerque organization to include branches in Roswell, Hobbs, Clovis, Carlsbad, and Las Cruces with a college chapter at UNM. Alamogordo integrated its teaching staff in 1953; Hobbs desegregated its school system in 1954. In 1954 APS hired Lauretta Loftus as the city’s first Black teacher.

By 1960 the Black population of New Mexico reached 17,063. During the decade between 1950 and 1960, the city’s Black community increased 581 percent from 613 to 3,563. By the 1960’s Black professionals were attracted by employment with the federal and state governments and local corporations in the state. 

Discrimination in Housing in Albuquerque

Lovie McGee, Albuquerque real estate broker and former member of the Albuquerque
Human Rights Board, states that discrimination was manifest in Albuquerque housing from the 1940’s to 1960’s. She states that written in the covenants of many city subdivisions was language stating that African Americans were not allowed to purchase property within the subdivisions. These covenants or agreements were legally enforceable by local and state law. Following in part is the language of a Protective Covenant and Building Restriction Agreement of a typical subdivision in the City of Albuquerque in 1950: “No person of African or Oriental descent shall use or occupy any building or use any building or lot for residential purposes. This covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of African or Oriental descent domiciled with an owner or tenant not prohibited hereunder from using or occupying buildings or lots in the Addition for residential purposes.”

Brenda Dabney, daughter of Virginia Ballou, recalls that the South Broadway area was the locale where most Blacks lived in Albuquerque in the 1940’s through 1960’s. There was another small pocket where Blacks could reside on 7th Street between Forrester and North Broadway. For the most part, the South Broadway neighborhood was the population cluster for Blacks at the time.

Rena Bendaw, a long-time Albuquerque resident, also remembers South Broadway
as the place where Blacks put down roots in Albuquerque opening businesses including beauty shops, barber shops, cleaners, shoeshine parlors, and nightclubs. It is also the location of the first African American Church, Grants AME Chapel. When newcomers such as railroad workers came into town looking for a place to live, homeowners would rent them rooms until they could find permanent places to live. The permanent home site would generally be in the same small pocket area or neighborhood.

Virginia Ballou pursued her father’s dream to develop a subdivision for all citizens called the East End Addition. Ballou’s father, Henry Outley, had the vision of developing an area where Blacks could purchase property and build homes. The East End Addition in the 1950’s was a mix of arroyos, prairie, and tumbleweeds.

Bordering on Virginia, Vermont, Lomas and Wyoming Streets, the area did not have water, gas or electricity. The Albuquerque Tribune at the time stated in an article that the East End Addition was just two dozen houses clustered on an empty mesa beyond the eastern edge of Albuquerque. This subdivision has now been deemed an historical neighborhood after developers tried unsuccessfully to acquire it several years ago.

Real estate broker Lovie McGee believes that in some ways conditions are the same in the real estate market as they were more than 30 years ago. Discrimination is more subtle as covenants prohibiting the sale of properties to Blacks are now in violation of the Albuquerque Human Rights Ordinance, the State Human Rights Act, and the Federal Fair Housing Act. McGee says that even today some people do not want Blacks in their neighborhoods, nor will they purchase a home previously occupied by African Americans.

She reports that in today’s market there are many real estate agents who practice
“steering” which is illegal. Steering is an act intended to influence home seekers’ choice of a property on a discriminatory basis. This practice of channeling home seekers interested in more valuable properties to less valuable areas has the goal of either maintaining the homogeneity of an area or changing the character of an area to create a speculative situation. This makes certain homes unavailable to home seekers on the basis of race or national origin, a practice which is prohibited by provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act. Steering tactics can be so subtle that home seekers are unaware that their choice has been limited. McGee indicates that it is estimated that more than 80% of the suits filed by the Department of Justice against real estate licensees for violation of the federal Fair Housing Law from 1990 to 2000 involved steering. 

Passage of the Albuquerque Fair Housing Practices Ordinance

The Albuquerque City Commission passed the city’s historic Fair Housing Practices Ordinance in 1963. Despite opposition by realtors and home builders, the City Commission unanimously passed the Ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and lending in Albuquerque. The Ordinance created a Fair Housing Advisor's Board of seven members each to serve for four years. The Board’s mission was to study the problem of housing discrimination, report at least annually to the Commission, aid persons discriminated against, and investigate their complaints.

Oliver Salisbury, an Albuquerque resident, is recognized for his impact on passage of the Albuquerque Fair Housing Ordinance. He addressed the Commission and described his and his wife’s struggle to purchase a home in Northeast Albuquerque in the early 1960’s. He stated from his personal experience that realtors would give Blacks title that was not clear; they would delay settlement on property; they would not follow up on offers. He described the humiliation that he and his wife experienced in their effort to buy a home.

Oliver and Carnis Salisbury, as a couple, worked together in an effort to achieve Fair Housing legislation in the city. Carnis Salisbury is recognized for organizing in support of the legislation and her ability to bring members of various economic and social strata of the Black community together to support and work to fight discrimination in housing. She was a catalyst for motivating the Black community to speak out about housing discrimination and other civil rights issues. The Albuquerque Human Rights Office awarded the Salisburys the Human Rights Award in 1990 for promoting and supporting human rights and human dignity, equal access, and the elimination of discrimination.

After hearing arguments for and against the measure, the Commission moved to pass the Fair Housing Practices Ordinance. Albuquerque became the third city in the United States to have a Fair Housing Ordinance after New York City and Toledo, Ohio.’“This is an attempt to codify the conscience of our community,” stated a Commission member as he moved to approve the Ordinance. The Journal’s account of the measure’s passage included this description of the audience following the bill’s passage:

“The roar of the departing crowd, filled with the bill’s happy backers, forced the Commission into recess. The racket continued in the corridor when the meeting came back to order. A police officer moved the crowd down the hall.”

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