Being a black person in the early 1900s in Phoenix, Arizona
There are a lot of shameful ways that non-white people were treated in the history of Phoenix, and if you really can't find a lot, well, that's not surprising. It doesn't paint a glamorous picture of a place when you mention Segregation, or Jim Crow Laws, or the Ku Klux Klan.
But I'm gonna talk a little bit about it here. I'm interested in Phoenix history, and exactly how everyone lived is important to me, even if doesn't paint a pretty picture.
No, I'm not trying to spoil an image of "the good old days". I like the West of the Imagination as much as anyone, you know, the Wild, Wild West. But if you know about the era of the west, you know that there's a big difference between imagination and reality.
Let's start with the end of the Civil War. What a lot of people don't realize is that not only were Black people freed from slavery, they were given the same inalienable rights that were written into the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Well, not women yet, that would have to wait. But Black men could vote, they could hold office, and they were considered full citizens of the United States of America. That era was called "Reconstruction" if you want to Google it.
But it didn't take long after that for the backlash. And yes, Phoenix did the same things that the rest of the country was doing. These were called "Jim Crow" laws, which very quickly took away the rights of Black people. And it got even worse with something called the Ku Klux Klan, which enforced this attitude, with violence, murder, and terror. The Ku Klux Klan were what we would call nowadays "Skinheads" or "White Supremacists". And yes, they were in Phoenix, and yes, there were lynchings.
And it gets worse. States, including Arizona, discriminated against Black people by doing what was called "Separate but Equal". And that meant separating things, even drinking fountains into "Black" and "White". This soon became the law of the land. The dividing line for Phoenix was the railroad tracks, and Black people were not allowed to buy houses north of that line. A school was built where the Black kids were obligated to go, called Caver High School. "Separate but Equal" was never equal, and the fight against it continues to this day. Phoenix desegregated its schools in 1953.
Yes, there were black people living in Phoenix at the turn of the century. And the future looked bright for them back then. But things were about to get really, really bad. After over 100 years that progress still needs to move forward, and it is.
Image at the top of this post: Sam Berry with his hand on the shoulder of Arthur Luhrs at the Commercial Hotel (the Luhrs Hotel) in 1888, Central Avenue and Jefferson, Phoenix, Arizona.
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Posted by Brad Hall