Unlike other parts of the U.S., African Americans remain a minority in New Mexico but their contributions are many. From helping to build this country’s sprawling railway system that crosses through the state, to the mining towns that dot the area, they have added to the cultural and economic vitality of the state. Albuquerque’s African American roots run deep and include the Colored Women’s Social club and the Mount Olive Baptist Church. Major sports figures like Don Perkins, Michael Cooper and Bob Foster all got their start in the Duke City.
First Black Pioneer
Estevan de Dorantes was born in Morocco in 1500, enslaved by the Portuguese and later sold to a Spanish nobleman. He is the first known black person to set foot in the Southwest in 1527. Estevanico traveled with Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca to New Spain, which today is much of the Southwestern part of the U.S. and northern Mexico. In 1539, while serving as the main guide to Marco de Nizo, in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, the Zuni Indians killed Estevanico.
African Americans have blended into the fabric of the state’s history. During the Civil War a contingent of black men in the Union Army, known as the Buffalo soldiers, were assigned as the 9th and 10th cavalries in the region. Their mandate was to provide protection from marauding Indians, Mexican revolutionaries, as well as bandits and rustlers who roamed the territory.
Bartender Who Listened
And during the month of February Santa Fe will never forget Alfonso Alderete who spent most of his life listening to people. During a career that spanned more than half a century he consoled them when they were sad; he shared in their joy when they were happy. He was there for people during the good times and the not-so-good times. Alderete wasn’t a psychotherapist or a priest—just the neighborhood bartender.