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COLUMN African American trailblazers in Hobbs

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This month during Black History Month we are honoring Black Americans who paved a path forward for the community. The City of Hobbs has a long history of Blacks who paved a path forward for the community.

We honor the trailblazers who stand on the shoulders of giants and continue to inspire us today. One of those trailblazers is

Ralph D. Littleton, who began his teaching career in Texas where he received a bachelor’s degree from Bishop College in Marshall, Texas. He later attended Colorado State Teachers College to complete his master’s degree.

Littleton moved to Hobbs in 1948 with his wife Daizolu where he became the principal after Mr. Pigford left Booker T. Washington, which was a segregated school. Littleton held the position of principal until 1974 when he retired.

After retirement he continued his educational journey, and became the first African American in 1975 to serve on the Hobbs school board. One of the longest serving African Americans in Hobbs school board history, Littleton was also involved in local politics and played a significant role with redistricting boundaries for local council elections that would later pave the way for Blacks to run for city council.

During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, where leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.,

Rosa Parks and so many others were fighting for equal rights for Blacks in the United States — especially in the deep Jim Crow South, Hobbs, New Mexico had its own civil rights movement.

It was led by an unknown high school student — Charles Edward Becknell Sr., who attended Booker T. Washington and later attended junior high school at Heizer Jr. High. Becknell played basketball in 1956-1957 and later attended Hobbs High School. He became one of the first Blacks to be hired as a caddy at the Hobbs Country Club while attending school.

A little unknow history about Becknell, while still in high school, he helped organize the first Black sit-ins at Hobbs lunch counters and restaurants. He later became a civil rights leader and an advocate for nonviolent social change when he left Hobbs and moved to Albuquerque.

Becknell left Hobbs in 1960 for St. Joseph College, which later became the University of Albuquerque. Becknell went on to get a bachelor’s degree in history and education, a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Albuquerque, and then a Doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico in 1975.

Becknell later became the founder and director of the African American Studies program at UNM, and director of the Governor’s Council on Criminal Justice Planning under former governors Jerry Apodaca, D-Las Cruces, and Bruce King, D-Santa Fe, he would later serve as the director of personnel services for the City of Albuquerque.

Another Black trailblazer in Hobbs was Andrew “Jim” James Palmer.

In the 1970s Blacks were not known for having positions in law enforcement across the United States — especially in the Southwest.

Hobbs, known for oil and gas, would quietly make history in the state of New Mexico.

In 1973, Jimmy Palmer, who was well respected by both the Black community and the white community, was the first African American to serve as a police chief in the State of New Mexico, and for the City of Hobbs.

He was also the first African American police chief in the southwest part of the United States.

He would rise through the ranks within the mostly white police department to be appointed as the police chief for the Hobbs Police Department. Palmer was active in the community, where he also made it possible for other African American men to join the HPD. The Palmer legacy continues to live on in the City of Hobbs.

Our history has many traumatic periods but it never stops us from accomplishing, what at times, can seem impossible.

We are teachers, lawyers, musicians, engineers, entertainers, mathematicians, surgeons, business owners, inventors, scientists, doctors, CEOs, activists, writers, entrepreneurs, and elected officials at every level.

We are a diverse people, with different languages, religions, cultures, and shades. There is no limit on what we can accomplish as our history has proven.

Virgil Green is director of public safety for the Oklahoma City Convention Center and is the past deputy police chief of the Tusla Public Schools and the former chief of police for Helena-West Helena and Spencer, Okla., departments. He was born and raised in Hobbs, having known the three leaders mentioned in his column.

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