Civil rights chief says progress made, however extra work wanted » Albuquerque Journal

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Rev. Charles Edward Becknell Sr. remembers vividly growing up Black in Hobbs, where he worked as a caddy in a county club and knew he could never become a member.

Rev. Charles Becknell Sr. reads his Bible at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Rio Rancho, where his son, Rev. Charles Becknell Jr., is the senior pastor. (Jim Thompson / Albuquerque Journal)

“They didn’t even let me use the toilet,” says Becknell, 79. “I had to relax in a ditch about 100 yards from the club.”

Becknell and the other black players played on the mostly white basketball team at Hobbs High School when the modern era of civil rights began and were not allowed to stay in the same hotels as the white players during away games.

Charles E. Becknell in the ninth grade of Stoker Junior High School in Hobbs, 1956-57. (Courtesy of the Becknell family)

His ears are still ringing at the response from the president of the local school board after lobbying a black student to become a cheerleader: “He said while he was in this board, no (N-word) ever be a cheerleader . ‘”

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At first, Becknell didn’t think much about the unworthiness of segregation, arguing, “That’s how it should be, because that’s how it was.” But as he got older, he questioned this and tried to make change.

While in high school he helped organize the first black sit-ins at Hobbs lunch tables and restaurants. He later became a civil rights activist and advocate of nonviolent social change.

Becknell’s years of experience as a clergyman, local and national civil rights advocate, and as someone who has spent time teaching in classrooms and working in government offices, has brought him to the fore with the myriad problems facing the black community. He also formulated a number of ideas to address these problems and summarized them in a brochure.

This pamphlet, which points the way to accelerating social change and empowering the black middle class, is now being circulated by the Black Caucus of Congress in Washington, DC

Becknell was active in the New Mexico Black Leadership Conference, the Black Coalition, and the NAACP. He is President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Martin Luther King Jr. was the organization’s first president.

Becknell, second from left, participates in a 1975 Gallup Native American Rights march. (Courtesy of the Becknell family)

While things are much better for the African American community today than when he was a kid, there are still barriers to a strong black middle class, according to Becknell. His pamphlet, “The Way to Reconciliation and a Way to Reparation,” does not advocate writing a check to African Americans as a reward for centuries of slavery.

“We don’t have to talk about how you’re going to pay us off and shift the conversation to developing a strong black middle class,” he says.

While some of the actions on his reparations roadmap are already happening to some extent, a collective focus on those actions by the nation is needed, he says. Realizing that government cannot fund them entirely, additional buy-in from charitable foundations, corporations, corporations – even individuals – must come, Becknell says.

Some of the things he considers essential to reconciliation and reparation include funding black students and black colleges, and better credit terms, which lead to black home ownership and black farms.

Becknell’s commitment to racial, economic, and social equality among African-Americans has been heavily influenced by his spiritual commitment, even if this was not clear to him as a child in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hobbs.

Charles E. Becknell in the ninth grade of Stoker Junior High School in Hobbs, 1956-57. (Courtesy of the Becknell family)

“I tell people that as an adult I had a drug problem,” he jokes. “My mother drugged me for Sunday school, she drugged me for morning service, she drugged me for evening service.”

With a basketball scholarship in hand, Becknell Hobbs left in 1960 to St. Joseph College, which later became the University of Albuquerque. I said, ‘Free at last, free at last. ‘I didn’t have to go to church anymore, but after a while it started to bother me. I didn’t grow up like that, but I continued to live by Church principles. “

Becknell received a bachelor’s degree in history and education, a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Albuquerque, and a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of New Mexico in 1975.

In and around these milestones he served as a physical education teacher at the Albuquerque Public Schools, a management trainee in California with Sears, Roebuck, founder and director of the African American Studies program at UNM, director of the Governor’s Council on Criminal Justice Planning under former govs. Jerry Apodaca and Bruce King; and Albuquerque City Human Resources Director.

Charles E. Becknell presented a program at Lavaland Elementary School during Black History Month in 1989, around the time he became an ordained minister. (Albuquerque Journal)

By 1986 Becknell found his way back into the brick and mortar lines of the church after meeting Pastor WC Trotter on the mountain. Olive Baptist Church in Albuquerque. He felt at home there and became a deacon. In 1988 he was ordained pastor and took over the pulpit of the church after Trotter’s death.

Today he preaches at the Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Rio Rancho, where his son Charles Becknell Jr. is the senior pastor.

Reflecting on the national holiday in honor of the king, Becknell says that not only were black clergy leaders among the leaders of the civil rights movement, but that much of the planning for marches and protests was done in churches.

“These were the only buildings the blacks owned and controlled, and where people sang and prayed and strengthened themselves spiritually before going out on the streets,” he says.

According to Becknell, King also believed that “Education is the way to better yourself and uplift society as a whole, and one of the ways to a strong black middle class.”

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