Cinematographer Barry Kirk ('76 BA) records as Charles P. Roberts is interviewed by MArsha K. Hardeman ('77 JD MPA).

Preserving History:
Black Alumni Chapter Oral History Project

By Leslie Linthicum

The title is a mouthful­—The UNM Alumni Association Black Alumni Chapter Oral History Project: New Mexico Black History, the Civil Rights Movement.

But the project, a joint venture between the Office of the Provost, the Black Alumni Chapter and Zimmerman Library, has a simple mission: to document the ways in which high-achieving black UNM graduates overcame racial discrimination.

“The theme is ‘breaking the color barriers,’” says Barbara Simmons (’69 BA, ’74 JD), co-founder of the Black Alumni Chapter. “All of the people involved are high achievers—educators, judges, lawyers, elected officials. It’s a documentation of how they were able to overcome discrimination and segregation and Jim Crow.”

Over a few days in May, the subjects sat in front of a video camera and talked about their lives and challenges and triumphs. The raw videos will be available in the Center for Southwest Research digital collection at Zimmerman.

These are the initial subjects of what the Black Alumni Chapter hopes is an ongoing effort:

Lenton Malry (’68 PhD), an educator and consultant, was New Mexico’s first African American state representative, serving from 1968 to 1978, and the first African American elected to the Bernalillo County Commission.

James B. Lewis (’77 MPA) retired in 2014 after nearly four decades in public service in New Mexico. He served as state treasurer for more than 13 years and remains the only African American to have been elected to statewide office in New Mexico.

Charles P. Roberts (’65 BA, ’69 MA) served as assistant dean of men, then associate dean of students at UNM. A three-year letterman in football, he was instrumental in creating the Black Student Union and African American Student Center on campus.

Ira Harge (’64 BA) scored 1,016 points in two seasons at UNM in the early 1960s. After taking the Lobos to the NIT finals, he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, but signed with the newly formed American Basketball Association.

Charles Becknell, Sr. (’68 MA, ’75 PhD) served as the first director of African American Studies at UNM. He served as the state’s criminal justice secretary from 1975-79 and as a national board member for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Angela Jewell (’79 JD) served as a special commissioner for the Second Judicial District’s Domestic Relations and Domestic Violence Division before being elected District Court judge. She was the state’s first black female judge.

Harold Bailey (’68 BS, ’71 MA, ’75 PhD) served as director of UNM’s Afro-American Studies Program, executive director of the state Office of African American Affairs and has twice headed the Albuquerque NAACP.

Tommie Jewell, Sr. (’63 MA) graduated from a segregated high school in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1944 and went on to a decades-long career teaching at the Albuquerque Indian School, on Acoma Pueblo and in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

Rita Powdrell (’68 BA), a part of the Mr. Powdrell’s Barbeque House family, has chronicled African American history in New Mexico. She was one of the founders of the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico.

Barbara Brown Simmons (’69 BA, ’74 JD) was the first black woman to graduate from the UNM School of Law and the first black woman admitted to the State Bar of New Mexico. With Sam Johnson (’73 BUS, 76 JD), she co-founded the UNM Alumni Association Black Alumni Chapter.

Marsha K. Hardeman (’77 JD, MPA), a former city of Albuquerque administrator, launched the black newspaper The Cornish Russwurm Chronicles, which published for six years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Charles P. Roberts ('65 BA, '69 MA)