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Recognizing the Contributions of African American Teachers at Indian Schools

Two cultural centers in New Mexico will explore the often overlooked contribution African American teachers made to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.

In recognition of Black History Month, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the African American Museum & Cultural Center of New Mexico will explore an often overlooked chapter of our state’s history, the experience of African American teachers in Indian Schools. Three African American educators who taught in the Indian Service—Dr. Lenton Malry, Mr. Tommie Jewell, Sr. and Mrs. Alice Pegues—will be in conversation with Mable Orndorff-Plunkett on Wednesday, February 25 at 5:30 p.m. at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Many African American teachers signed on to Bureau of Indian Affairs schools because they saw them as an extraordinary professional opportunity, with higher salaries and the chance to join an integrated workforce.

Malry, Jewell and Pegues taught in Indian schools between the 1950s and 1970s. Malry taught at Kinlichee Boarding School on the Navajo reservation in eastern Arizona; Pegues taught at Nenahnezad Boarding School in northwest New Mexico, near Farmington; and Jewell taught at the Albuquerque Indian School and Acoma Pueblo.

“It is important that we recognize the valuable contributions of African Americans to New Mexico, especially in something so fundamental as education,” said Orndorff-Plunkett. “My mother moved across the country to teach at San Felipe Pueblo after seeing an Indian Service advertisement at a Kentucky post office. Like her, many African American teachers welcomed the opportunity to teach in the BIA schools. The experience of these teachers is an important chapter in New Mexico’s education history.”

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The February 25 event supports the African American Museum & Cultural Center of New Mexico’s traveling exhibit “New Mexico’s African American Legacy: Visible, Vital, Valuable” and the museum’s efforts to research and archive the history of African Americans in New Mexico and the Southwest. It is also a complement to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s current exhibit “Albuquerque Indian School Retrospective with a Vision Forward.”

The event is free and open to the public. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is located at 2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico.