alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 V.19 No.26 | July 1 - 7, 2010 

Gallery Review

History Lessons

The forgotten past is almost always the most interesting

The Hibler family in Chilton, Texas
Courtesy of Clarence Fielder and the Henry Fielder Family
The Hibler family in Chilton, Texas

As a history nerd, I've often wondered what exactly it is that draws me to certain people or times. For example, I love me some medieval India, especially the Mughal Empire. Maybe it's some past life thing, who knows? But it came up again for me while wandering around the National Hispanic Cultural Center exhibition New Mexico's African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable. I was reminded of this freelance job I had a few years ago in which I wrote short biographies of notable African-Americans, anyone from John James Audubon to Charity Adams Earley, people about whom I knew nearly nothing when I started but who inspired me through their courageous actions.

Daniel and Cortez Hibler, proprietors and chefs of the Jitney Café
Courtesy of Clarence Fielder and the Henry Fielder Family
Daniel and Cortez Hibler, proprietors and chefs of the Jitney Café

In the small exhibition, which is tucked into the library building at NHCC, two members of the same household highlighted as African-American founding families in New Mexico caught my eye. The first was Owen Smaulding, an Albuquerque High School student who, in 1915, was named the most outstanding athlete in the United States. Now, I'm not very sporty—I wear dress shoes and skirts when I ride my bike—so there's no shared passion for athletics that would draw me to the baseball, basketball, football and track star.

His brother, Chester, however, is totally my kind of guy. Chester and his wife Corine (aka Pert) owned Chet and Pert's Flamingo Lounge, the first African-American-owned establishment in the state with a liquor license. Apparently the New Mexico Office of the State Historian is more of an Owen fan, because there isn't a drop of info about Chester or his bar on its website or anywhere else on the web, though Owen has a very small write-up.

This is one of those exhibits that teaches you things you didn't know you wanted to know.

Legacy is filled with information about the Smauldings and tons of other New Mexico African-American families I knew nothing about. And that's its magic—this is one of those exhibits that teaches you things you didn't know you wanted to know.

Ollie and daughters, Gertrude, Irene and Rosalee
Courtesy of Clarence Fielder and the Henry Fielder Family
Ollie and daughters, Gertrude, Irene and Rosalee

When I first wandered into the building, I headed straight for some cases filled with stuff—and I found myself disappointed. There was a display with some textiles—a couple of hats, a pair of gloves and a collage by the Myrtle Church Sister Circle and Garden Club—but no information about why they were there or what they meant to the community. Another display featured paperwork about Mable Orndorff, a teacher who came to New Mexico in the ’50s to work at San Felipe Pueblo for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and who later received her master’s in education from UNM. The documents are interesting as artifacts, but without more context about why Orndorff is featured, the presentation falls somewhat flat.

The compelling part of Legacy is the part many people ignore: the words. Yes, those giant placards on the wall, the ones normally full of information we all overlook—they're really awesome. I want to sneak into the NHCC late at night, take them off the wall, make photocopies and take them home with me. Or I just want them published in a book somewhere so I don't have to test whether the Alibi is willing to offer up bail money for my inspired, artistic shenanigans (I'm guessing no). But seriously, the information here is the kind of thing you just can't easily find with an Internet search. People such as Dr. James Dennis, who surely had a lasting impression on the community, are featured. Dennis' contributions came in the form of editing a newspaper called Southwest Review, being one of the first licensed African-American medical doctors in the state and helping to form the New Mexico chapter of the NAACP.

Courtesy of the New Mexico State University Library Archives and Photograph Collection

It's fascinating stuff, and through the research I did, I know just how buried the history and impact of African-Americans who lived during the first half of the 20th century can be. My work ended up as a collectible set of cards advertised in Ebony magazine, a product I've never actually seen. Please, don't let that happen with the work of curators at NHCC. No matter what your heritage, you'll be inspired by the early African-American settlers who, like you, made New Mexico their home.

New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable

Runs through Sept. 18
National Hispanic Cultural Center
1701 Fourth Street SW

Today's Events

Trash at National Hispanic Cultural Center


After three boys picking trash in the slums of Rio de Janeiro find a wallet in the daily detritus of their local dump, they little imagine that their lives are about to change forever.

Celebrate Student Writing Award Winners at Collected Works

Good to Go at Exhibit/208

More Recommended Events ››

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.