When new African Americans arrive at Santa Fe to live or work, one of the first things they seem to notice is that there are no Black Folk. They may go days, even weeks before seeing one. They may see a West African here or there, but they are not going to see African Americans as they would in New York, Chicago, Oklahoma City, or Denver. We are here, not in large numbers, but we are here. First, let's look at some numbers.
According to website, the population of Santa Fe, as of July 2008 is 71,831. The percentage of Blacks is 0.7% or 503. The more recent Santa Fe Public Schools School District data (2009) states that out of 13,660 elementary students, 80 are African American. You can sense from these numbers that you aren't going to see a whole lot of Black Folks in your normal everyday travels. We are here; the trick is to find us.
When we moved here in 2006, we found the Santa Fe Branch of the NAACP and joined. A lucky break; a cousin of my wife was then running for president of the organization. Agnes Moses was already in her 80's and was campaigning furiously. She won and at the ceremonies that was also the Annual Soul Food Banquet, we met the celebrated Tuskegee Airman, Robert Lawrence and his family. We met a film producer, a Grammy award winning musician, and other successful and productive African Americans from the community.
The amazing thing is that you rarely see these people in the grocery stores, home depot or even at the cinema. However, you will see them at the major festivals and events in Santa Fe. I want to reassure you that there is an African American community here; you just won't find a African American neighborhood. As they say, "ain't gonna happen."
So what is the attraction for (the few) African Americans that come to Santa Fe? For me is was the fascination I had for the Southwest since high school in the 1960's. It was the colors, the adobe houses, the big sky, the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe, the Native American pottery, the friendliness of its people, and the willingness of the people to leave folks alone. Many (of the few) would tell you the same; they came here to get away from the congestion, confusion and alienation of big cities and also to rejuvenate and reinvent themselves. The necessity of a Black neighborhood is just not high on the list. But you do want to see and be around your kind every once in awhile.
Having said all that, African Ancestored folks have been in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico since the 1500's when Estavanico was doing his thing. Buffalo soldiers are interred here at the National Cemetery. There are African American families, like the Slaughters, who have been here since the 19th century. I suspect that there is an African American heritage laying just below the radar of the rich cultural tapestry here in the 'City Different'. Besides, there are 80 grade-school students that need to know about their local history. We will be covering the current and the past in future articles. Stay tuned.