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NMSU history professor leaves mark as educator preserving African American heritage

Clarence Fielder, a dedicated heritage preservationist and long-time Las Cruces educator who spent 40 years as a history professor at New Mexico State University and more than 30 years as a public school teacher, passed away on Friday, April 3. He was 87 years old.

Man looking to the side with his chin in his hand
NMSU Professor Emeritus Clarence Fielder was a life-long Las Crucean who leaves a legacy as a cherished educator and leader of a movement to restore the state’s oldest African American church. (Submitted photo)

A visitation is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, April 17 at Phillips Chapel on the corner of Tornillo and Lucero streets. A Funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 18 at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 225 West Griggs in downtown Las Cruces. Internment will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 20 at Hillcrest Cemetery.

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.

Fielder’s legacy as an educator includes his tenure as a professor of African American history at NMSU from 1970 – 2010. He was a teacher in the Las Cruces Public Schools for 32 years.

He also was the leader of a successful grass roots community effort to completely restore Phillips Chapel, the state’s oldest existing African American Church. It was Fielder’s grandparents who started the church in 1910.

“He loved history and was a wonderful teacher,” said Beth O’Leary, NMSU anthropology professor emeritus, who worked closely with Fielder on the Phillips Chapel project. “Clarence was part of a vital community and he inspired the restoration of the chapel."

In 2002, Fielder partnered with Terry Moody, then an NMSU anthropology graduate student, to put Phillips Chapel CME Church on both the State and National Register of Historic Places as well as designing an exhibit on the African American community in Las Cruces that was displayed across the state.

“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.”

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 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. Last year, Fielder was honored with the Aggie Cornerstone Award by the NMSU College of Education as an educational leader with an innovative approach to teaching.