Hidden History: African American Museum and Cultural Center works to preserve history in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE)-The state of New Mexico has a rich African American history. Rita Powdrell wants to make that history available for anyone willing to listen.

Powdrell is the Executive Director of the African American History Museum and Cultural Center.

“The museum is about making it visible to everyone, said Powdrell. It’s not in the schools. Our children go to schools where they never see themselves. They go to museums in this state and they never see themselves.” said Powdrell.

Rita Powdrell’s husband Joe sees the importance of keeping African American History alive in New Mexico.

“A history of a people that make up about two or three percent of the population has been thought of as insignificant,” said Joe Powdrell. “Not only by the greater community but, I think we have a tendency to think. So we have allowed it to be trapped, hidden, undiscovered.”

There are stories like the town of Blackdom, started when New Mexico was still a territory. Blackdom was a city of hope for African Americans,” said Powdrell.

It was we’re going to have our own place and we are going to value ourselves the way we feel we should be valued.” Blackdom, founded in 1901 by Frank and Ella Boyer, was a place where African Americans could redefine themselves. The vibrant community is now a ghost town and became that way after drought made it uninhabitable in the 1920’s.

It is one of many stories the Powdrells’ like to share while touring the state. The museum currently does not have a permanent home but, continues to try and change that.

“Around 2004, and it lasted maybe six years, we partnered with the Holocaust Museum and petitioned the state of New Mexico and the legislature,” said Rita Powdrell.

“We got two and a half million in capital outlay monies to purchase and renovate a new building to house the museum.” That project would soon hit a snag. “The city being the main fiscal agent for the monies and a very poor purchase of the Rosenwald Building because it had asbestos in it and other things,” said Rita Powdrell.

“The two million was pretty much frittered away and there was nothing to show for it.” The museum is still working in hopes of getting an alternative place to call home.

In the meantime, the Powdrell’s will continue to get the word out with what has become a mobile museum.

“We exhibit at museums throughout the state of New Mexico,” said Rita Powdrell. “We’ve been at the New Mexico history museum in Santa Fe. We’ve been at the Drew Gallery up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. We’ve been in Las Cruces. We’ve been at the Hispanic Cultural Center. We’ve been at the African American Performing Arts. We will be doing a collaboration with the African American Performing Arts in January of 2018.”