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 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."
"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.
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.
Three of the five remaining 19th Century African American pioneers to Tucson are shown above (circa 1933). Richard Holt and Thomas Grant originally came to Arizona with the U.S. Army in the late 1800s and after their discharge chose to remain in the Tucson area. Henry Ransom arrived in Tucson in 1881 and became "within the course of years, Tucson's most famous transfer driver."
Richard Holt was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1865 and came to Tucson in 1884 as a soldier in E Troop of the 10th Calvary. E Troop is likely best known for it's involvement in the 1886 campaign against Chief Geronimo, which ended in the Apaches surrender after a nine-month standoff. During this campaign Holt carried mail from the railroad to the interior. Discharged in 1889, Holt worked on a cow ranch until 1897 and then took a series of jobs with different mining camps, hotels and private families. Although he never married, Holt fathered two children with his French common-law wife while working in the mining camps.
Thomas Grant was born in Germantown, Kentucky in 1848. After arriving in Tucson in 1892 he immediately retired from the 10th Calvary and began working for attorney John L. Martin, for whom he still worked in 1933 when the Yancy thesis was published. In 1910, Holt homesteaded 22 acres of land at Fort Huachuca from the government. After recuperating from an illness in California, however, he returned to Arizona to find he had lost everything but the land which he later sold. Although Grant was once married he had no children and at the time the Yancy thesis was written, no surviving relatives.
Born in Ozark, Arkansas in 1855, Henry Ransom moved to Arizona when he was 26 years old. After arriving in Tucson, Ransom hauled freight and ore for three years before leaving to take a position as a foreman on a cellar digging contract. Later he worked as a cook at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (which became the Orndorff Hotel ) and as a yardman and porter at the San Xavier Hotel. During his employment at the San Xavier, Ransom began planting Cottonwood trees from the Santa Cruz River area along the front terrace of the hotel. At the time he was interviewed in the early 1930s Ransom claimed that the tree shown below (the single surviving Cottonwood he had transplanted) was the oldest tree in Tucson.
Henry Ransom's last job, which he held from 1892 until his retirement with a life pension in 1931, was with the Tucson Transfer Company as a driver (see photo below). Ransom was originally employed as a freight driver for a private individual in Tucson in the late 1880s. After the business changed owners and names several times it was purchased by the Pioneer Transfer Company from Phoenix, Arizona, which was in turn bought out by the Tucson Transfer Company in 1892.
In the mid-1890s, Mrs. Lee came to Tucson to open a restaurant run exclusively for a white clientele. Mrs. Lee had originally come to Arizona in 1888 to cook for a wealthy Eastern family but "sought greater opportunities for the application of her unique 'cuisine art'," so she opened a cafe in Phoenix that catered to white tourists. "After a few years, her place became the most exclusive eating house in Phoenix." Upon her arrival in Tucson, Mrs. Lee made arrangements to rent the dining room at the Orndorff hotel, "which had been closed for some time due to the fact that it was not profitable to the hotel to operate it." Although her restaurant "received the patronage of the best people in Tucson" she was forced to close after three years due to poor health and died in the early 1900s.
The Yancy thesis includes a study of the economic conditions of the African American population in Tucson, Arizona. Seven subtopics were considered, including: (1) the African American population as it related to the overall Tucson population; (2) employment; (3) housing; (4) investments and savings; (5) school costs from elementary through junior high; (6) the comparison of the African American population of Tucson with the African American population of nine other cities; and (7) African American business, political and religious organizations. The photos below represent housing and business interests of African Americans in Tucson in the early 1930s.
The photo above is of a home owned by an African American, although it is not one of the most expensive in Tucson it was considered an "ideal residence" (circa 1933).
The photo above was a rental residence of an African American family. The windows, screens, floors, and doors were all evaluated as "poor" in the study Yancy conducted of housing conditions among African American residents in Tucson.
Represented above is one of the business areas considered in the Yancy thesis, that of poultry farming. The photo above is of an unnamed individual who was a "technically trained poultry grower." A native of Oklahoma, this grower came to Arizona in 1923 with the intention of opening a chicken farm. Realizing "that technical training and skill had to be obtained," he entered the Agricultural Department at the University of Arizona. After an "extensive study of marketing conditions and flock management" he opened his business in 1927 and by 1933 had built up a "high grade of patronage and ... [had] maintained some of his customers for five years."