Planned center to focus on NM civil rights leaders

November 14, 2011 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche attended school as a child in Albuquerque and later became a civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Albuquerque-born George I. Sanchez was a pioneer educational scholar who first wrote about discrimination against Mexican-Americans in public schools in the 1940 classic book “Forgotten People.”

But few in Albuquerque or New Mexico remember much about these two key civil rights leaders with Duke City ties. And there are few traces in the city that the two men had roots here.

Those are historical slights that Jewel Hall, [auth] president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center Board, hopes to rectify with a proposed King center in Albuquerque. Advocates said the facility will be dedicated to teaching community members about the city’s local history and civil rights movement.

“This history is largely forgotten and I think people can benefit from it,” said Hall, a retired educator. “In order for us to understand the issues of today, we have to understand what we have faced in the past.”

For years, local civil rights leaders have been pushing for a MLK center in Albuquerque. Recently, they unveiled a master plan for a building that would serve as a meeting place, educational and recreational center. Hall said organizers currently are looked for land to purchase and are about to begin a fundraising campaign for the multimillion dollar facility.

She said Sanchez and Bunche would be among many civil rights leaders they will honor.

Organizers said they also want the center to be a training ground for future civic leaders and community organizers.

Sanchez was a key early civil rights advocate for Latinos and later president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization. The education scholar has a building named after him at the University of Texas at Austin. However, Albuquerque has nothing publicly to honor him.

Bunche won the 1950 Nobel Prize for Peace for successfully negotiating an Arab-Israeli truce and was later active in civil rights marches in Alabama. Recently, the Ralph J. Bunche Academy, a charter school focusing on an “Afrocentric perspective to education,” opened to service students in Albuquerque.

Joycelyn Jackson, an educator in Albuquerque, said the charter school is the only facility to honor Bunche’s name in the city.

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