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Juneteenth banquet pays tribute to Blackdom


Diners set down their forks and stood as the Billy Townes Group shifted from a set list of jazz standards to accompany a choir performing “Life Every Voice and Sing,” the hymn giving voice to Black Americans’ appeal for freedom and opportunity.

Hundreds gathered at the Las Cruces Convention Center on June 15 for an evening of dinner, music and celebration ahead of Juneteenth.

The holiday, observed on June 19, commemorates the formal end of chattel slavery in the United States on the date that Union Major General Gordon Granger entered Texas in 1865 to command enforcement of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Although celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866, it was declared a federal holiday only in 2021.

The $75-a-plate event was organized by the Doña Ana County chapter of the NAACP, whose president, Bobbie Green, greeted attendees, noting the diversity in the room as well as the presence of top leadership of the city, county, New Mexico State University and others. “This is what America great,” she said. “The diversity, the intelligence … the compassion. That is what makes America great.”

Mayor Eric Enriquez and City Councilor Johana Bencomo jointly presented the city’s Juneteenth proclamation, followed by Doña Ana County Commissioners Susana Chaparro and Shannon Reynolds with the county’s proclamation. Several local state legislators were in attendance, and video messages from U.S. Ben Ray Luján, U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez and New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez were presented.

The evening also featured a tribute to Blackdom, as a piece of New Mexico history and a post-Juneteenth story of independence and resilience. Blackdom was a Black homesteader settlement and farming community in Chaves County, begun in 1901 under the leadership of Francis and Ella Boyer and made possible by land grants under the Homestead Act. The community built a village center with church and schoolhouse, post office and businesses, before drought conditions caused the inhabitants to relocate, leaving Blackdom empty in 1921. The Boyer family resettled in Vado in Doña Ana County.

Saturday’s keynote speaker was Boyer’s great-great-grandson, Mitch Boyer. Following a video documentary about Blackdom, Boyer spoke for five minutes in tribute to his ancestor and relating his own efforts to follow the elder Boyer’s example as a civil rights activist (who was once arrested alongside labor leader Cesar Chavez) and community leader in Vado.

“Although I never knew him personally,” he said of Frank Boyer, “I learned from hearing his story (and) the legacy. We shared a lot in common. We both were visionaries as well as natural leaders. I possess the same goals: to empower my community and to encourage social justice and political change.”