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November 05, 2009


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Kudos to Mr. Talton for his invaluable historical background and insights.

Race relations and attitudes don't grow out of a vacuum: they are created and passed down over generations. By offering historical context, Mr. Talton has explained present circumstances.

It's extremely important to remember, because there is a tendency to imagine that in the post-civil rights era, that prejudice is a thing of the past. But it isn't. Segregation is no longer the result of legal factors, but social and economic factors insure that neither segregation, nor the prejudices which it tends to perpetuate, have disappeared.

Housing communities which are significantly segregated by race, especially when reinforced by familial conditioning, make social mixing unlikely, even when students are bused to racially mixed public schools (instead of being further cloistered in private schools).

A recent newspaper story claimed that the new driving factor behind school busing isn't race, but rather economics: the attempt is to reduce concentration of empoverished students in empoverished districts where inferior funding may result in inferior schooling. But of course, in a country where minorities have traditionally been economically oppressed, minorities remain substantially behind economically.

When two groups begin a footrace under circumstances in which one group is given a substantial head start, it isn't surprising when the latter group stays ahead. Naturally, there are exceptions, since both groups contain individuals of exceptional ability, but as groups the distance relation tends to be maintained in the absence of aggressive measures to remedy it.

Now that affirmative action has been deemed, by conservatives and by much of the political mainstream, to be unnecessary if not reverse racism, economic differences may not only persist, but actually widen. The law of compound interest implies that those who have more to begin with will tend to increase their absolute wealth advantage over time.

In any case, it's remarkable how persistent historical conditioning can be, and how it may persist even when the original reasons are long forgotten.

I sometimes hear young Black men on the bus referring to one another as "nigga" when they want to challenge or disparage each other. I don't attempt to interject myself in these exchanges, being White and not knowing the individuals involved, but if I were Black and had children, and heard one of mine use this term with respect to one of his brothers, he or she would get one warning, and if it happened a second time, a mouthful of soap and water.

I believe that the term originated with White slaveowners, then spread to Black slaves who, in arguments, attempted to claim superiority by aping the master's language. Today, no young Black man would knowingly perpetuate this, but it seems that old habits die hard and sometimes lose the thread of their original context.

Emmett McLoughlin hearkens back to a day when there was a left in Arizona. Much of it came from organized labor (copper mining being the state's major industry) and Arizona was a Democratic state during his heyday. Eleanor Roosevelt came out to inspect his good works and bestow her own benefaction, as it were.

My father came to Phoenix in 1948. The family station wagon blew a gasket in Wickenburg on a trek to Santa Barbara where Dad hoped to land a surgical residency. Out of money, the family ventured to Phoenix instead. My sister and I were born in St Monica's Hospital, which McLoughlin founded and directed. McLoughlin left the priesthood around that time and the hospital became secular (Memorial Hospital). My father was taken in with McLoughlin's charisma and pursued his residency there.

Dad was an Okie and a vintage Democratic New Deal Democrat. During the 1950s, he was Ernest McFarland's personal physician. But the political complexion of the state shifted dramatically as the state boomed and organized labor shrank in relative importance. By the 60s, the state had become a reliably Republican state although its ideologues were not as nihilistic as today's True Believers.

My parents voted for Nixon in 1972 (the kids for McGovern), and that sea change was as much about race as the shifting economic landscape. Nixon (and Pat Buchanan) knew America's soul was no longer tethered to the workplace so much as the neighborhood. The new political consciousness was keyed less to economic class and more to the dog-whistle politics of race. 30-some years later, Republicans practice this strategy with an even more maniacal intensity.

Growing up in the 50s, I don't remember Arizona as really that mean. A classmate of mine of Chinese heritage remembers it differently (she married Matt Fong who was California's Republican nominee for the US Senate in 1998). There were plenty of Hispanic kids at Sunnyslope High and my sister dated some of them. Steven Spielberg went to Arcadia High before his family decamped to Saratoga, CA after his junior year. He said he never heard anti-semitic slurs here but plenty over there.

Arizona is so utterly different today than 50 years ago that comparisons are pointless. The nation changed too, and like Arizona, not always for the better. We're a state marooned in a losing economic paradigm with little but memories of an long real-estate boom to buffer the pain. It's sad to see people cling to outmoded strategies but you can call that the failure of success. We'll keep doing what we do because it's all we know.

After speaking to older relatives, including my parents, I was told that many went to school (in the 1940's and 1950's) with White classmates. Granted, they went to school in smaller communities west of Phoenix (Buckeye, Tolleson, Glendale, and Peoria). Were the schools segregated for all minorities in earlier years? Did this only occur in Phoenix? I know segregation was made legal in 1909 in the Arizona Territory. However, I cannot find examples beyond the George Washington Carver High School (Phoenix Union Colored High School) of schools in Arizona that were segregated. My great aunt, in her late 80's, remembers being "segregated" until learning to speak better English. But she also doesn't remember any Black students in her school.


Prior to 1900, Mexican students attended the same public schools as Anglo children. It is known
that Mexican families sent their children to the first Phoenix public school classroom in 1871. This
classroom was held in the Territorial Courthouse on south 1st Avenue, at that time known as
Cortez Street. The first separate school building, the Central School, was made of adobe and
located on Central Avenue, two blocks north of Washington Street. Phoenix’s first high school
began in 1895 in the Clark Churchill residence at 5th and Van Buren Streets.53
Under Father Jouvenceau, St. Mary’s Church established a parochial school in 1892, where things
were different. Anglo children attended classes in a brick building located at 4th and Monroe
Streets, while Mexican children went to classes in a frame home the Church purchased, located at
Van Buren and 4th Streets. Five years later, Father Novatus erected a new brick school and named
it San Antonio’s, for the Mexican children. San Antonio’s School provided free tuition while St.
Mary’s School charged for tuition. The intention of separate schools was to enable Spanishspeaking
children to learn enough English at San Antonio’s to transfer over to St. Mary’s Grammar
School, though this was not always the practice. In any case, the enrollment at San Antonio’s was
always higher than at St. Mary’s Grammar School, and the former always had fewer teachers. The
teachers at San Antonio’s were not paid for their work, while the nuns who taught in St. Mary’s
Grammar School received a salary.54
In the 1890s, Phoenicians of Mexican descent attempted to make public schools and the overall
society “more bilingual.” In 1893 an Arizona legislator called for teachers “to pass an examination
in Spanish and teach Spanish to their pupils.”55 The Anglo population rallied against the idea and
supported existing legislation where “all schools must be taught in the English language.”56 A
political firestorm of opposition against bilingual education in the public schools ensued, with
Phoenicians questioning the American loyalties and patriotism of Hispanics. The Phoenix press
continued to fuel anti-bilingual education rhetoric and hinted racist overtones when Anglo critics
suggested that schools “teach the Mexicans English instead of trying to make Mexicans of the
Americans.” Clearly issues of language and “American loyalty” have a long history in Phoenix.57



Just plain brilliant. Thanks for taking the time to compile and write this.

Thanks Rogue, very good overview. There's always more to the stories of our diverse communities and we're still digging out details. Lincoln Ragsdale's work for the Maricopa County NAACP is well documented in Matthew Whitaker's fine book Race Work, but since publication some additional data points have emerged in the Lincoln Ragsdale Emancipation Proclamation audio recordings here: https://repository.asu.edu/items/17376 Primarily Sunday morning gospel music broadcasts created to celebrate the proclamation centennial, most episodes include Ragsdale's brief updates on NAACP work in Phoenix.In one episode Ragsdale provides a brief eyewitness account of the El Ray Cafe sit-in in 1963. Use the time code index document to select specific tapes and excerpts by time code. I'm also working on a long term project to digitize bilingual Japanese internment camp newsletters from Rivers AZ, many Phoenicians were likely imprisoned there.This is being OCRed so individual names can be found.

Thank you for a fabulous read, Jon. It captures the essence of Phoenix. So many dichotomies at play.

I was thinking, "Too long," and ended up reading the whole thing with open-mouthed fascination.
Phoenix seemed to me on a the couple of visits I have made like a place where the past had been wiped away. Those lonely, barren streets must have been lively once, I think.
You brought it back to life.
The way forward is for Mexicans to gain political power and put the energy of their people to work rebuilding the community.

I assume that Arizona will always be jerkwater environment until eventual human evolution takes place, Which could take generations to unfold ..""

Jon, I see so much of this segregation has taken place in my lifetime (80 years). Because I grew up in Clifton, Arizona, I was somewhat insulated from this.

Earl Randolph, Jr. was a student at Clifton High School and graduated in 1956 and went on to graduate from NAU. He scored more basketball points than any other high school student.

I think my grandfather, A.C. Stanton, who was on the school board expedited the processes for Earl and his sisters to be CHS students. It. Probably helped that He was on the CHS School Board. There’s more to this story................!

Interesting article, lots of good information. However I wouldn’t take the 1920 census as gospel. A hundred years have passed and the non-white population census count is still dismal. Can’t imagine how bad it must have been then.

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