History of Phillips Chapel
In the early 1900’s African-Americans began settling in Las Cruces, NM where they began new lives in numerous venues. Members of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church first worshipped in the home of Daniel and Ollie Hibler. When the congregation grew too large they rented a small frame building at the corner of Campo Street and East Court Avenue. Services were held there until Phillips Chapel was completed in 1911.
Daniel Hibler purchased the land on which Phillips Chapel CME Church was built for $45.00 and had it deeded to the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America on May 1, 1911. The chapel was named after the Right Reverend Charles H. Phillips, the first presiding bishop of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Phillips Chapel is the oldest African-American church in Las Cruces.
Throughout its long history Phillips Chapel has served the Las Cruces community as a civic and social center. Clarence Fielder, grandson of Daniel and Ollie Hibler remembers attending many social activities held at the chapel when he was a child, and speaks fondly of “youth groups, ice cream socials, and hobo parties where we’d go house to house dressed as hobos and come back to have picnics with the food and goods we collected”. Many African-American couples were married in the chapel, and their children christened there.
In the 1920s, the political climate in Las Cruces changed due to influence by new arrivals. Landholders moving into New Mexico where “Jim Crow” laws where established, created segregation laws and removed African-American children from the public schools. Only schools in the southern part of the state, east of Deming, became segregated during the 1920s, including those in Las Cruces, Hobbs, and Alamogordo. The Las Cruces School District segregated in 1924, when about thirty-five children were removed from the Central Elementary School and sent to Phillips Chapel CME Chapel. Gertrude Hibler Fielder, daughter of Ollie and Daniel Hibler, recalled being moved to attend classes with other black children at the little Methodist church that her father had built.
After Booker T. Washington School was built Phillips Chapel continued to serve as a place where baccalaureate services were held when African-American students graduated from the segregated Booker until integration occurred in 1954 following the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
The chapel was listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties and National Register of Historic Places in 2003 thanks to the hard work of Terry Moody and Clarence Fielder. The restoration of Phillips Chapel began in 2010 and has been a three year labor of love by many concerned volunteers and students of Doña Ana Community College.
Story and photos courtesy: Faith Hutson