In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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A Brief History

Establishing Neighborhoods

Deed restrictions and the actions of neighborhood associations, realtors, and individuals kept African Americans from owning or renting property in many areas of Tucson well into the 1960's. As a result, African Americans established their own neighborhoods. One of the earliest was in the vicinity of "A" Mountain. An early resident of the neighborhood, Clarence Francis, described it in a 1991 oral history.

"When I came here, out on the mountain, maybe ten families were living out here, and we all became friends, good friends. There weren't any hard top streets out here; it was just dirt streets, so we bargained and asked the city for hard top. There wasn't any city water but we had our own wells. Later, we did get city water. This neighborhood used to be just for colored, that was all that lived out here." [Lawson, AA Settlers, p 14]

Later other neighborhoods were established along South Park Avenue, and downtown near Meyer Street. In the early 1960's an area called "Sugar Hill" between Stone and Park Avenues, south of Grant became an African American neighborhood. [Henry, p.90]

Many early African American settlers attended church services at San Xavier Mission along with Mexican American and Native American families. Others attended Protestant services held in homes of African American community members. In 1900, the Mount Calvary Mission, the first African American church in Tucson, was founded at North Seventh Avenue and East Seventh Street. It was followed by the Prince Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church and several others. These African American churches not only provided spiritual comfort to their members, they also provided an important social focus for the community. Box lunches were popular in the early 1900's, where young men would bid on meals prepared by young women in the congregation. [Sanchez]

A 1933 survey showed African Americans as owning 3 car repair and service stations, 3 restaurants, several shoe shine parlors and other small businesses. Many Black business owners opened their shops along Meyer Street. Tommy Scott Cleaners, Peggy Watson's Chat and Chew Cafe, and Jimmy's Chicken Shack were all popular. [Yancey]

Examples of segregation and discrimination were pervasive in Tucson, not only in restricted housing but in nearly all aspects of daily life. Movie theatres routinely segregated their audiences. In 1942, the Tucson newspaper "Arizona's Negro Journal" carried an article titled, "Lyric Theatre Refuses Negro Soldiers Seats." Black children could not swim in the city's pool unless it was the last day of the week, the day before they drained the water. African Americans could not order a soda at the dime store lunch counter. African American visitors to Tucson experienced similar discriminatory treatment. When Marian Anderson, a famous contralto, came to Tucson in 1942, no hotel would accommodate her. Blacks playing for the Cleveland Indians also had difficulty finding housing and dining accommodations during Spring training. [Henry, p.91]

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