Old-School Ways

Carver High alumni preserve the Valley's African-American history

Franklin had a special reason to assemble the display. Her family moved to Arizona in 1942 to pick cotton. She yearned for an education, but was not allowed to attend schools near her East Valley home.

So she walked several miles, then boarded a bus to Carver High.
She has teenage memories of the cafeteria--she rarely had the 35 cents she needed to buy lunch. Instead, she budgeted 17 cents to pay for a hot dog and ate it on the lawn beneath the trees that still exist today.

These days, Franklin is an art teacher, mostly to poor white kids.
The museum welcomes visitors of all races, genuinely, and while the idea that Phoenix was a meanspirited, segregated town is uncomfortable for many, the museum's founders say they harbor no bitterness.

What they were taught at Carver High, they say, is to treat all people with kindness. No matter what.

Ivery Hemphill, class of 1942, was once presented with a puppy by a white family. On one condition. The dog was to be named "Nigger." She didn't care. She loved the dog. She later went on to be a prominent local businesswoman.

Hattie Day Colbert, class of 1951, remembers the day her son returned from his integrated high school. He'd presented a paper about Phoenix during the segregated years (roughly the first half of the 20th century). The kids in the class, says Colbert, thought her son had made it all up.

Laura Dungee Harris, wife of Richard Harris, was recruited to Phoenix from the Midwest by an agricultural labor broker named "Lawyer Fortune." She made the trip as a child with her family, packed into a train with hundreds of others seeking a better life. She didn't understand the concept of segregation until she got much older. She says she simply accepted that she couldn't attend larger, better-equipped schools.

In fact, she thinks the overt racism of segregation, in which "you at least knew where you stood," is preferable to the "under the rug" racism of today.

"When it was out in the open," she says, "you could face it."
Oddly, while the alums of Carver High understand that desegregation was necessary, they lament the loss of schools like Carver. Kids really did feel safe there, they say, and they were instilled with the sense that they were just as good as anyone else. When their own children went to desegregated schools, they were often ignored or encouraged to pursue trades, not careers.

"Carver was like the Harlem Renaissance," says Ethel Stubbs Boyer, who graduated in 1947 and went on to become a prominent teacher and civil rights activist in New Mexico. Nevertheless, she says, Carver alums knew only too well that Phoenix was a difficult place for blacks.

"The things that were done to us, that we went through, have to be told," Stubbs Boyer says.

"And nobody will ever tell it if we don't.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets