A new Arcadia Publishing book that shares the stories of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans throughout their history in El Paso is now on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.
Written by University of Texas at El Paso scholars Dr. Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Cecilia Gutierrez Venable and Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, “African Americans in El Paso” covers history as far back as the 1500s, when blacks crossed the Rio Grande with conquistador Juan de Oñate.
Filled with 200 photos of distinguished African American figures, historic buildings that served as community solidifiers and various prominent events, the research involved to assemble the 128-page book came from the Library of Congress, the McCall Neighborhood Center and the archives of UTEP, El Paso Times and the El Paso Public Library.
“While this is mostly a picture book, it’s also one of those things that should be the impetus for someone to do some more research on the community, because it is such a phenomenal community,” said Venable, a Ph. D. history student who also co-authored “African Americans in Corpus Christi.”
Maceo, who is the director of African American Studies at UTEP and has written other books about national and local black pioneers, reached out to Venable and Smith-McGlynn last year in the hopes that by publishing a book that highlighted the accomplishments of the black community in El Paso, future generations would find inspiration in their stories.
“What was so impressive to me was how dynamic and focused African American leadership was and still is here in El Paso,” Dailey said. “Change comes about when people are tenacious and they recognize that there’s a discrepancy between the democracy we preach and the democracy that we practice, and for African Americans here in the city, in all of those positions, they were pushing to make democracy a reality.”
Historical groundbreakers highlighted in the book included community activist and McCall Neighborhood Center founder Leona Ford Washington and Dr. Lawrence Nixon, who challenged the all-white Democratic primary in the 1920s and established the first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Texas.
Venable interviewed Nixon’s daughter for the book. Considered “a patriarch of the black community” by Dailey, Frances G. Hill, widow of El Paso City Council’s first black councilman, was also interviewed.
Community centers, churches and schools were also spotlighted throughout the book.
“I think one of the biggest contributions that I saw was the Douglas School, which back in the late 1800s, at a time when education was segregated of course all across America, served not only as a resource for children, but also as a glue that kept the community together. [The school] really gave African American children a safe place where they learned [and] were able to socialize and in a world that was quite hostile to them,” said Smith-McGlynn, a professional actress and former professor at UTEP who created a new curriculum in the communication and theater department and taught classes such as “A Lens on Denzel Washington.”
The book also discusses more recent leaders in the black community, such as former Fort Bliss 1st Armored Division Commanding General Dana Pittard, El Paso Police Deparment Chief Greg Allen and El Paso Public Library Director Dionne Mack-Harvin.
“I think that [“African Americans in El Paso”] will suffuse the community with pride in a sense that the book showcases people who are incredibly dignified,” Maceo said. “Given the fact that the history of the black community in El Paso is so fascinating, in many instances, it has been in the vanguard of promoting community change and national change.”
“African Americans in El Paso”
A book signing will take place Nov. 1 from 4 p.m.-5 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at Sunland Park