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Building wing dedication ceremony to honor late NMSU history professor April 22

Release Date: 18 Apr 2022
Building wing dedication ceremony to honor late NMSU history professor April 22

Clarence H. Fielder started the African American history program at New Mexico State University in 1970 and he continued to teach at NMSU until he retired in 2010. Last year, NMSU’s Board of Regents voted to name a wing of Breland Hall to honor Fielder, who died in 2015 and on Friday, April 22, family, friends and community members will attend a dedication ceremony for the Clarence H. Fielder Wing.

The campus community will pay tribute to the man whose legacy includes not only his many years as a teacher in public school and at NMSU, but also his efforts to preserve the African American history of Las Cruces. The dedication ceremony from 2­­–4 p.m. Friday, April 22 in the Villanueva Victory Club at the Stan Fulton Center at NMSU will include speakers, music and a short film called “A Walk with Clarence Fielder.”

“Clarence loved a few things in life: his family, his church, history and education. His joy for teaching and sharing history was spread from grade school levels to college levels and from generation to generation,” said Marcia Boyer, Fielder’s niece. “This earned him respect from his community.” 

Speakers will include NMSU Board of Regents Chair Ammu Devasthali, members of Fielder’s family, a prayer by pastor Rickey Taylor, music by Bobbie Green, President NAACP Doña Ana County, and Orlando Antonio Jimenez. Members of the committee will presentat a tribute book about Fielder’s life and accomplishments.

Beth O’Leary, professor emerita of anthropology, along with Rani Alexander, department head of anthropology, Mark Cioc-Ortega, NMSU history department head, Dwight Pitcaithley, history professor and Kimberly York, spearheaded the efforts to recognize Fielder.

“This naming recognizes not only Mr. Fielder’s 40 years of teaching African American history at NMSU, but also his many years as a teacher in the Las Cruces Public Schools, in addition to his critical role in the restoration and preservation of Phillips Chapel in Las Cruces C.M.E. Church, the oldest extant African American church in New Mexico, listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places,” said O’Leary.

Born and raised in Las Cruces, Fielder graduated from NMSU in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in business. In 1955, he earned a master’s degree in education from NMSU. A decorated Korean War veteran, he served as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for gallantry in action, and later retired as a major in the Army Reserve. 

Phillips Chapel was founded by Fielder’s grandparents in 1911. It also served as a school for Black children during the period of segregation in the Las Cruces Public Schools from 1925 to 1954. Fielder led Dona Ana Community College faculty, students and community volunteers in the efforts to restore the church, which was completed in 2014.

In 2003, Fielder partnered with Terry Moody, then an NMSU anthropology graduate student, to put Phillips Chapel CME Church on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, as well as designing an exhibit on the African American community in Las Cruces that was displayed across the state. Moody is currently a consultant in historic preservation and anthropology.

“Mr. Fielder was the cornerstone to my success as a graduate student at NMSU and in the historic preservation field,” said Moody. “I was a student that relocated to New Mexico from the east, and didn’t have a clue about the history of African Americans in the Southwest.

Clarence opened my eyes to the journey of the many African Americans who settled in Las Cruces. He continued to inspire students even after he retired by generously sharing this history with students throughout the state.”

When Fielder posthumously received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Historic Preservation Division in the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, former chairman and New Mexico State Historian Rick Hendricks said, “As a fellow historian, I valued his unrivaled knowledge of the history of the Black experience in New Mexico and his eagerness to share what he knew with all who were willing to listen.”

Fielder received many honors throughout his life. He was recognized as State Teacher of the Year in 1971. In 2005 he received an award from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division for his contributions as a New Mexico historian, sharing the little-known history of African Americans in New Mexico, and for preservation of the oldest African American church in Las Cruces, Phillips Chapel. In 2011, the Office of African American Affairs recognized Fielder for Outstanding Educational Services. He was presented with the Outstanding Historian award by the African American Museum and Cultural Center of New Mexico. In 2006, he was appointed by the governor to serve on the Cultural Properties Review Committee, where he was a committed member in preserving New Mexico’s cultural heritage until 2012. Fielder also was honored with the Aggie Cornerstone Award by the NMSU College of Education as an educational leader with an innovative approach to teaching.  

“Most of all, Clarence was a good, kind man and scholar who inspired us to respect and honor all people and to share what we have.” O’Leary said. “Naming this wing for him allows all of us to remember him.”

Watch a short film titled “A Walk with Clarence Fielder” at: https://youtu.be/17oGToFIaIE

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