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Albuquerque’s First African-American Neighborhood
Albuquerque’s East End Addition
By Michael Ann Sullivan
The East End Addition was the first African-American suburb in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Built between 1950 and 1972, it is a small enclave of residential homes on the single city blocks of Virginia and Vermont streets, north of Lomas Boulevard, and west of Wyoming Boulevard. On the one hand, the East End Addition is reminiscent of hundreds of residential streets in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque built in the post-World War II period. The homes are one-story pueblo or ranch-style and set back an equal distance from the street. They have carports or one car garages and picture windows in the front. On the other hand, among Albuquerque neighborhoods, the East End is unique. It was conceived, developed, built, and purchased by African Americans.
Since the Spanish colonial period, people of African descent have inhabited the Southwest. Juan de Oñate brought three African slaves on his first expedition to New Mexico in 1598. For the next two centuries, people of African ancestry came north, voluntarily and involuntarily, from Mexico. Many intermarried with indigenous peoples adding their own cultural heritage to the Southwest. In 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the U.S., freed slaves came seeking land to homestead. Many African-Americans also came west as “Buffalo Soldiers” after the Civil War and fought for the U.S. against Native American tribes of the West. In 1903, a group of homesteaders established Blackdom, an all-black community outside of Roswell, in the New Mexico Territory. At its height Blackdom had over 300 residents. Other African-Americans settled in Albuquerque and the Southwest during and after World War I and World War II. Black migrants came to western cities in search of work opportunities in flush war-time economies. Many black veterans of World War II came west to escape the segregated schools and public facilities of the southern and eastern United States. African Americans perceived Albuquerque to be a place with less institutionalized racism, more opportunities to earn a decent living, and a less prejudiced environment in which to raise a family.
In the early 1930s, the Fraternal Aid Society, an association of black businessmen, had a vision to build an all-black neighborhood on the east side of Albuquerque. In 1938, Henry Outley, a trustee and member of the Fraternal Aid Society, platted land the organization owned into a proposed subdivision of 144 acres and named it the East End Addition. The subdivision spanned seven city blocks east-west and four city blocks north-south. It abutted present-day Pennsylvania in the west and Wyoming in the east; Lomas in the south and Constitution in the north. On its northwestern border the Fraternal Aid Society assigned 15 acres to be the future site of the War Mothers Memorial Hospital which was never built. They also set aside two full city blocks in the center of the subdivision for a use as a park. Outley and his partners, James Lewis, Theodore Davis, and Omar Blair, envisioned this land at the eastern edge of the city as a suburb for African-American families. The Fraternal Aid Association knew that Albuquerque was growing eastward and that someday the East End Addition would be in the heart of the city.
The dream of several individuals, the East End Addition was a clear example of black initiated communities in the West, similar to Blackdom in an earlier era. It also mirrored the struggles of African-American veterans to participate in the post-war affluence facilitated by the GI bill. Suburbs blossomed across the country in the wake of World War II. Many working class families bought homes in newly established suburbs–Albuquerque was no exception in these years. Returning veterans bought homes in the flourishing suburban neighborhoods of the Northeast Heights. Although less racially segregated than most cities in post-war America, Albuquerque, nevertheless, still maintained a color divide when it came to housing. Most black families buying a home in Albuquerque in the 1950s were directed to already well-established African-American neighborhoods in the South Broadway and Kirtland Addition areas. Black homebuyers were excluded by some neighborhood real estate covenants in effect at the time. Unable to purchase homes in the new suburbs of Albuquerque, some members of the African-American community endeavored to create their own Northeast Heights suburb in the East End Addition. Outley died in 1947 without realizing his dream.
The year before his death Outley deeded the entire East End Addition subdivision to his adoptive daughter, Virginia Ballou and her husband John for the sum of one dollar. Ballou operated her own business, Aunt Brenda’s BBQ located on Arno Street, in the South Broadway Community. After Outley’s death, in addition to running her own business, Ballou developed the East End Addition into a small housing development for the Albuquerque African-American community.
Ballou faced many hardships in pursuing her father’s vision. She claimed that many real estate deals occurred in the Albuquerque Country Club, a place she could not go. Ballou had difficulty finding both a contractor and financing in Albuquerque for her proposed development. On a trip to Phoenix, in the late 1940s, Ballou visited a housing development constructed by a black contractor named J.S. Jones. J.S. Jones and his brother-in-law, D. H. Williams, owned a contracting company and began building homes in South Phoenix in the early 1940s. After World War II, a group of black investors created the Progressive Builders Association and purchased 160 acres of land at the corner of 24th and Broadway. Jones and Williams constructed homes in the Broadway development. They also built homes in Scottsdale and Sunnyslope.
Ballou persuaded Jones to work with her in developing the East End Addition. Jones and his wife moved to Albuquerque and lived with Ballou while constructing the homes. In order to finance the East End Addition, Ballou sold most of the original plat of land to Jones’s firm, the Southwest Construction Company. She also lost some land through foreclosure. Financing for the purchase of completed homes was provided by Gulf Coast Investment of Houston, Texas. Out of the original twenty-four block development, Jones and Ballou were only able to finance and complete construction on two blocks with a total of twenty-two individual homes, sixteen on Virginia and six on Vermont. Ballou always felt that she had been squeezed out by white male developers.
Ballou faced the same struggles as other community activists in larger urban cities around the country to obtain decent housing for African-Americans and other minorities. The 1950s witnessed a weakening of the legal basis for segregation through judicial decisions, civil rights protests, and congressional actions. However, at the same time suburbanization acted to increase the actual reality of segregation. African-Americans only accounted for about 5% of all suburban residents during the 1950s. Zoning restrictions often resulted in the exclusion of minorities from the suburbs by excluding more modestly built homes or alternative building structures like apartment buildings or multi-unit housing. Even middle-class African-Americans who could afford suburban housing encountered racial discrimination. Real estate agents often refused to sell homes to African-Americans in all-white neighborhoods and banks refused to lend money to black buyers.
Ballou often told her daughter, Brenda Dabney, that she was a woman ahead of her time. In 1950, despite the many roadblocks she encountered, Ballou held a grand opening with three model homes. Roy Palmer, a railroad porter, purchased the first home in the East End Addition, at 1013 Virginia. Twenty-one additional homes were built by Jones between 1950 and 1955. For the most part these homes were all purchased by working class African-American families. Many original inhabitants of the East End Addition were World War II veterans or career military men. Others worked as custodians, porters for the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, mechanics, or postmen.
In 1950, Rubin Phillips, a porter for the Santa Fe Railroad, purchased 1018 Virginia. Phillips moved from Clovis, New Mexico to Albuquerque after World War II to provide a better life for his family. Phillips encountered racism and prejudice in Clovis, was unable to obtain a GI loan to buy a home, and found the schools to be segregated. He hoped that Albuquerque would be a better place to live. Phillips is one of a very few original East End Addition inhabitants still living in the neighborhood. He found the East End to be a “respectable neighborhood.”
Although, not every family worshipped at the same church, Phillips remembers the neighborhood as filled with “good Christian families.” The Phillips held and annual Fourth of July barbeque, which was well-attended by East End Addition neighbors. He gave a State of the Neighborhood” address every year at the festivities to commemorate births, deaths, and other important events in the community.
Oscar Jones bought 1016 Virginia in 1951. J.S. Jones built his home for him. He remembers the tumbleweeds and open space of the East End Addition. “There was no neighborhood then,” he reminisces. Jones moved from Texas to Albuquerque when he was 17 and lived with his uncle. He too served in the army during World War II. After the war, he returned to Albuquerque and bought a home. Jones learned the dry cleaning business from Ruth Hull and eventually opened three of his own dry cleaning establishments. Jones remembers how veterans purchased nearly all the early homes on Virginia and Vermont. “We all knew each other,” he said.
Many of the second wave of homes in the East End Addition, built in the early 1960s, were also purchased by African-American families. In 1961, Tommie and Bobbie Jewell engaged Ashcroft Construction to build them a home at 1020 Vermont. The Jewells had moved to Albuquerque from Tucson in 1954 to take advantage of better job opportunities. Tommie taught at the Indian School and Bobbie worked in data processing for the Albuquerque Public Schools. They initially purchased a home on Cutler and were the first African-American family in that neighborhood. When the opportunity arose, they bought in the East End Addition.
The original East End Addition homes, built by Ballou and Jones, were largely purchased by African-American families. African Americans also owned many of the subsequent homes built in the 1960s. The East End Addition was a small close-knit neighborhood where families knew and looked out for each other. Many residents belonged to neighborhood clubs and celebrated holidays with one another. The East End Addition retained many of its original inhabitants for over forty years.
By the 1970s, most suburban neighborhoods in Albuquerque were open to anyone who could afford homes there. The East End Addition itself became a more racially mixed neighborhood. However, for those families who purchased homes in the East End Addition in the early years the neighborhood represented something special and unprecedented in many other parts of the country—affordable, new, quality housing. For East End Addition residents, owning their own homes in a nice location was part of the promise and prosperity of the 1950s.
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Source material for this essay also from oral interviews conducted by Michael Ann Sullivan with Brenda Dabney, Rubin Phillips, and Tommie and Bobbie Jewell conducted on 12 December 2003, 12 January 2004, and 14 June 2004 respectively.