- From Buffalo Soldiers to Redlined Communities:African American Community Building in El Paso's Lincoln Park Neighborhood
In the 1800s, Chinese men worked in restaurants and laundries and lived in El Paso's First Ward. After the arrival of the railroads, in the 1880s, thousands of Mexicans lived alongside a sizable Black population. Historian Julian Lim writes, "For black, Chinese, and Mexican men and women, the El Paso-Juárez border held a similar attraction of time, offering multiple peripheries that exposed the limitations of segregation laws, exclusion policies, and capitalistic desires for a captive workforce."1 All these groups were segregated to various neighborhoods.
This essay seeks to address how African Americans reconfigured the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to reflect their lived realities. Some questions this essay will respond to include the following: What were the consistencies between liminalities and borders for African Americans, and how were new identities forged? What did Black racialization look like within these spaces? What was the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers in the city of El Paso and its surrounding communities? What did identity creation look like within this space? What does it convey when we designate El Paso as part of the West? Another important critical component in this essay is how the African American community living in El Paso's East Side was displaced due to highway building. There is a lack of [End Page 107] histories and stories of how African Americans along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands managed their identities, as well as how they maintained culture and traditions in places where they were regulated to specific spaces, neighborhoods, and barrios. Howard Campbell and Michael Williams have argued in their essay "Black Barrio on the Border: 'Blaxicans' of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico," that "there are also cultural borders within borderlands, not just across them."2 They also state that in the borderlands, other groups such as Anglo-Americans, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans have overshadowed African Americans.3
The presence of African Americans in El Paso was established as early as the Civil War period, although "the number of blacks living in El Paso prior to the Civil War were miniscule—approximately 30."4 Welborn J. Williams in "The Buffalo Soliders' Brush with 'Jim Crow' in El Paso" states that "immediately after the Civil War, two companies of the 125th United States Colored Troops had been stationed at Ft. Bliss."5 Historian Quintard Taylor noted, "No group in black western history has been more revered or more reviled than the Buffalo Soldiers, the approximately 25,000 men who served in the U.S. Army's Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantries between 1866 and 1917."6 Williams states that members of the Twenty-Fifth were often sent to the frontier to ensure peace and stability and that their missions "were confined to stringing telegraph wire, escorting stagecoaches, building and repairing roads, and on occasion, fighting Indians."7 In El Paso, Williams writes, "Black troops were the norm due to a more tolerant racial atmosphere there than in other parts of the state."8
The Lincoln Park community was one of those neighborhoods, one of the first mixed African American and Mexican American communities in Texas and in the Southwest.9 It began as a village named Concordia or Stephenson's Concordia Ranch in the 1840s, just north of the Rio Grande. With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, following the U.S.-Mexican War, it comprised part of the expanding United States. After the discovery of gold in California and continuing through the Civil War, Concordia became a respite for travelers and hosted a mercantile store for wagon trains heading West. In 1868, part of Concordia was leased to the U.S. Army and became Camp Concordia or the third Fort Bliss. Garrisons of Buffalo Soldiers were stationed there. After the arrival of the railroads in El Paso in 1881, the community provided a home for both African American and Mexican workers and their families.
In 1866, African Americans came to the attention of Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the Chairman of the Senate Military Committee...