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

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Special Topics & Publications

The Negro of Tucson, Past and Present
by James Walter Yancy

Images from James Walter Yancy Thesis Photographs
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James Walter Yancy's 1933 thesis The Negro of Tucson, Past and Present included a number of photographs taken by Yancy. Images to these photographs offer us a snapshot of African American life in Tucson in the early 1930's.

Charley Embers (photo taken: March 1, 1933)
Charley Embers (photo taken: March 1, 1933)
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Charley Embers was born in San Bernadeno, California in 1849. After moving to Tucson in 1866, he began working as a cook at a mining camp at Ajo for $30 per month, plus room and board. In 1876, he changed jobs and began unloading freight at Maricopa Wells, northwest of Tucson for $40 per month, exclusive of room and board. In later years he worked as an assistant to a surveyor and was employed at various times with the San Xavier Hotel, the Eagle Mills and with private families. Mr. Embers married a Mexican woman from Sonora with whom he had one daughter and at the time the Yancy thesis was written was "the oldest living person in Tucson."

Charley Williams -- known to all Tucson music lovers as Banjo Dick
Charley Williams -- known to all Tucson music lovers as Banjo Dick
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"The person with the most illustrious career, ... who by far stamped his personality upon the pioneer citizenry of Tucson more than any other Negro was Mr. Charley Williams -- known to all Tucson music lovers as Banjo Dick ."

Born in Kentucky on December 30, 1949, Williams came to Yuma, Arizona, from California in 1871. In Yuma he met and was later employed by Mr. L.A. Smith. In 1872, Williams moved to Tucson with the Smith family and worked for them as a " 'all around man' -- raising children, washing, ironing and taking care of the livery." Williams began to play the banjo "as a means of expressing his soul and also as a method of getting a little extra money." His biggest engagement was that of playing at La Vennis Park, the exclusive rendevous of the Tucson aristocrats. In 1891, Williams move to Nogales, Arizona, where he ran a shoe shining parlor for 3-4 years. The whereabouts of "Banjo Dick" after this time are unknown.

The oldest home in Tucson belonging to an African American (circa 1933)
The oldest home in Tucson belonging to an African American (circa 1933)
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Born in Kentucky, Dave Lucas came to Tucson with his mother, Elizabeth Lucas, who had secured employment at Fort Lowell as a cook. Although the exact date they came to Arizona is unknown it is assumed that it was around 1873, when Fort Lowell was erected in the northeastern section of Tucson by the U.S. government. Dave Lucas' responsibilities at Fort Lowell included taking care of the dining hall and caring for the horses of General Carr for which he received around $25 a month. "While working at Fort Lowell, Mr. Lucas became skilled in handling horses and soon became a jockey with unusual ability." In later years Lucas worked for various Tucson families and purchased the home shown above. Reputed to be the oldest home owned by an African American, still standing in Tucson, the house had been vacant for nearly 25 years when the photo was taken on February 28, 1933.

Continue with more images from Yancy's thesis