Ghost Town Was N.M.’s First Black Settlement

This historical marker between Roswell and Artesia is about the only visible reminder of the town of Blackdom.

 

It was 1896, and New Mexico seemed like the land of opportunity to Frank Boyer.  Boyer, an African American living with his family in Pelham, Georgia, was looking for a better future than what he saw around him: humiliating, restrictive Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan.  

His father Henry had been to New Mexico with Gen. Stephen W. Kearny during the Mexican-American War and said things were better here. With that vague sense of hope, Frank and a friend headed out west.

Frank Boyer walked a thousand miles — all the way to Roswell. He homesteaded land about 20 miles south of there and discovered an artesian water source. By 1901 the Boyers were farming and encouraging others to join them in settling nearby and forming a new community, which he named Blackdom — a community especially for African Americans looking for a fresh start. They advertised back east, and by 1908 his town had 300 residents and the future looked bright.

A Blackdom resident named Lucy Henderson penned a letter to the editor of a large black-owned newspaper in Illinois, The Chicago Defender. “Here the black man has an equal chance with the white man,” she wrote. “Here you are reckoned at the value which you place upon yourself. Your future is in your own hands.”

But the future also contained drought, and the bountiful water from the artesian well eventually dried up. Life in Blackdom became untenable. Most of the residents dispersed into nearby Roswell, Las Cruces and Vado. By 1930 Blackdom had become abandoned, and no buildings remain where the town once stood.

There is a plaque on Route 285 between Roswell and Artesia that commemorates the founding of Blackdom by Frank Boyer and his wife, Ella. The townsite was a few miles west of this monument in a countryside that today looks as inhospitable as any in New Mexico. There is no hint of the lush fields and orchards. Gone are the church and school, the store and post office, the cabins and town square that fostered the dreams of a generation.

But the real Blackdom, as is the case with many dreams for a better world, is not to be found in a piece of barren ground. Blackdom is part of the undefeated spirit and history of our people, and lives in the brave hearts of us all.

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