Black people have played a major – though often under-appareciated – role in El Paso’s history. So I thought I’d offer a few suggestions for El Paso-connected books to read during Black History Month to deepen your understanding of this history. 

This list is heavily influenced by my friend and mentor, Maceo C. Dailey Jr., the director of UTEP’s African American Studies program from 1996 until his death in 2015. 

“African Americans in El Paso” is a primer on local Black history, from the Africans who accompanied Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century through Texas Western College’s historic national basketball championship and 21st century entrepreneurs. Published in 2014, it was written by Dailey, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn and Cecilia Gutierrez Venable.

“Tuneful Tales” is a 1925 self-published book of poetry by Bernice Love Wiggins, who lived in El Paso at the time. Her work showed the influence of the Harlem renaissance in the Chihuahuan Desert. Dailey discovered the book in his research and published it with Texas Tech University Press in 2002.

Maceo C. Dailey Jr.

Dailey’s research also discovered an unusual book by two stalwarts of the Harlem renaissance, Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes. “Boy of the Border” is a coming-of-age tale about the journey of a 12-year-old Mexican boy and his uncle across the American Southwest. It was never published in the authors’ lifetime, but Dailey discovered the manuscript and published it in 2010 through Sweet Earth Flying Press, which he owned with his wife, Sondra. El Paso artist Antonio Castro L. created illustrations for the book.

“Wheresoever My People Chance to Dwell: Oral Interviews with African American Women of El Paso” is a 2000 collection edited by Dailey and Kristine Navarro. Interview subjects include Leona Ford Washington, who played a key role in preserving Black history in El Paso.

These books may not be easy to find, but check with the El Paso or UTEP libraries. At the start of Black History Month, Literarity Book Shop had one copy of “African Americans in El Paso.”

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.