WILLDS Guest Speakers Discuss Important Black Historical Figures In New Mexico

Julia Kingsdale, Bosque School Equity, Community, and Culture Educator
On February 1, 2023, Ms. Tonya Covington and Ms. Mandisa Routheni spoke with the Bosque senior class as part of the senior WILLDS curriculum. In honor of Black History Month, which takes place each year during the month of February, Ms. Tonya and Ms. Mandisa quizzed the seniors on their knowledge of Black history in New Mexico and engaged students in a discussion about why such history is often left out of our textbooks. 

Among the many events and facts that Ms. Tonya and Ms. Mandisa shared were the stories of three Black historical figures, all of whom had connections to New Mexico:

Cathay Williams: The only female Buffalo Soldier
Cathay Williams was the first Black female to serve in the U.S. Army and the first (and only) female Buffalo Soldier. As Ms. Tonya explained, Williams—who used the name William Cathay—pretended to be a man in order to enlist in the army. While stationed in New Mexico, Williams was hospitalized and ultimately discovered to be a woman, thus leading to her discharge. You can read more about Cathay Williams here

Ralph Bunche: The first Black recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize
Most of us know about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, two of the most famous Black recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. But how many of us know about Ralph Bunche? Bunche was the first ever Black recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to him for his work as a United Nations mediator of peace talks in the Middle East. Bunche spent much of his early life in Albuquerque, and Ms. Tonya told the seniors about a time after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when Bunche returned to Albuquerque to speak with a general audience about his peace work. The lecture was held in a local school that had a large auditorium, and despite his global prestige, the school locked the doors to all the classrooms during Bunche’s visit in order to “protect” their white students from a Black man—a sign of the intense racism that existed throughout New Mexico. In addition to his work as a mediator in the Middle East, Ralph Bunche is known for his involvement in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and in global efforts toward decolonization. You can read more about Ralphe Bunche here.

Bass Reeves
Born into slavery in 1848, Bass Reeves would become a U.S. Deputy Marshal renowned for his impeccable marksmanship and his unmatched ability to capture criminals in the lawless western territories. Reeves captured more than 3,000 wanted criminals without ever being shot. Many people believe Reeves’s story was the basis for the TV show “The Lone Ranger” in which the main character, who shares many of Reeves’s accomplishments, was portrayed as a white man. You can read more about Bass Reeves here.

In addition to teaching students about these three impressive Black figures, Ms. Tonya and Ms. Mandisa spoke with the senior class about anthropological evidence of pre-Columbian Black presence in New Mexico; the history of Black cowboys, including the famous Nat Love; and the movement of Black teachers, who were fired from schools that had been newly integrated with white students in the 1950s and 1960s, into teaching jobs on Native reservations in and around New Mexico. Ms. Tonya then led the students in a discussion about why such events and figures are rarely taught in the standard history curriculum in our schools. 

We are so grateful to have had Ms. Tonya—who also frequently leads professional development for Bosque staffulty—and Ms. Mandisa as guest speakers in our WILLDS program, and we look forward to their next visit!
    • Ms. Tonya Covington talks to Bosque School seniors after her presentation.