Clarence Fielder, a New Mexico State University professor who taught African American history from 1970 to 2010, is adding to his legacy. NMSU Regents approved naming a wing of Breland Hall to honor Fielder, who died in 2015. The Clarence H. Fielder Wing is home to NMSU’s Department of History, which served as Fielder’s academic home throughout his career.
“Webster has no words to describe Clarence Fielder,” said Marcia Boyer, Fielder’s niece who spoke on behalf of her mother Gertrude and the Fielder family. “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. This earned him respect from his community. This wing in Breland Hall acknowledges his dedication and interest in NMSU.”
Beth O’Leary, professor emerita of anthropology, along with Kimberly York, interim director of Black Programs, Rani Alexander, anthropology department head, and history professor Dwight Pitcaithley spearheaded the efforts.
“This naming recognizes not only Clarence’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, the oldest extant African American church in New Mexico, listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places,” said O’Leary.
“By all accounts, Mr. Fielder is deserving of this honor and so much more,” York said. “It is simply the right thing to do. While I did not have the privilege of meeting him, it is with great pride that we can symbolically preserve his legacy and priceless contributions. As a cultural milestone, this naming fortifies the mission of Black Programs. This collaborative effort is the epitome of diversity, equity and inclusion. We are appreciative of everyone who has worked diligently over the past months to make this possible. It is our hope that Mr. Fielder’s family is encouraged to know that their labor has not been in vain. We look forward to presenting this precious memorial to them and the NMSU campus.”
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 grandfather 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 NMSU faculty, students and community volunteers in efforts to restore the church, which was completed in 2016.
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 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 us to remember him.”
Watch a video from 2013 of Clarence Fielder talking about the restoration of Phillips Chapel and the history of the Black community in Las Cruces at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cS70_ZZNhaQ