This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Being black in old-time Phoenix


People have always been very comfortable making racist comments around me. Whether they consider it good-natured teasing about my race (I'm a white guy), or something that they want to say about other races, I gotta tell ya, I've heard way too much. And as much as I try to say, "haters gonna hate", I just can't really ever get used to it.

If you know your American history, you know that there have been some very shameful things done towards persons of color, and it continues to this day. But when I look back on Arizona history, instead of being discouraged, I am encouraged by the improvements made, and I am hopeful for the future.

So, and this may surprise you, here it is: yes, there are black people living in Arizona. If you yourself are black and living in Arizona, this may not come as a surprise, but for many people, it is. And black people have lived in Arizona since territorial times. Try Googling Buffalo Soldiers to get started on your research.

I won't dwell on the bad stuff, there's just too much, and I'd rather not talk about it. But I do want to talk about the people of Phoenix. The ones who lived there, and who saw all of that. I collect old photos of Phoenix, and yes, there are black people in those photos.

By the way, one of the most shocking things is how the language changes over the years. Certain terms that give, and are meant to give, offense today didn't have the same connotations at one time. We don't hear the words often today, and really, it's wise to not use them anymore. Nowadays the only proper place for those terms are references to the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and UNCF (the United Negro College Fund).

Black people are part of the history of Phoenix, Arizona, and always have been. If you've never noticed, well, maybe it's time to.

1917 article from the Arizona Republican Newspaper. From the Library of Congress


Image at the top of this post: Sam Berry (with his arm on the young Arthur Luhrs) at the Commercial Hotel in the 1880s, northeast corner of Central and Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona. And that's Billy Mathews, the bartender, next to George H.N. Luhrs. From the Luhrs family collection.

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