It’s not well known that Arizona ended racial segregation of its schools before the Brown v. Board of Education federal ruling. And did you know that Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most famous blacks in history, spoke in Phoenix the 1960s? With so much discussion about racism happening now, it’s a good time to revisit our state’s African American history. Need Black History Month field trip ideas? Here’s six places you can visit to learn about black history in Arizona:
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1.) Phoenix: Historic Tanner Chapel AME Church
Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is the only church in Arizona where Martin Luther King, Jr. is known to have delivered a speech. The building was completed in 1929 and is listed in the Phoenix Historic Property Register, one of only fourteen properties in Phoenix, to receive the prestigious landmark status. The historic church is an important part of history in Arizona.
The congregation, first organized in 1886, gathers for Sunday worship at 7:45 am, and 10:45 am where one of the most important African Americans in history preached. After the service, have Sunday dinner at Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café and discuss famous African American black history over home-style Southern and soul food. The family-owned restaurant has been here since the 1960s.
Tanner Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church 20 S. 8th Street in Phoenix between Washington and Jefferson Streets | www.tannerchapel.org
Hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the historic Tanner Chapel in an audio recording for a slice of famous black history here.
Learn more about the civil rights leader by reading The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
2.) Tucson: Dunbar Pavilion African American Arts & Cultural Center
Tucson’s first and only segregated schools for African-Americans is home to Dunbar Pavilion, an African American Arts and Cultural Center. The Paul Lawrence Dunbar School, built in 1918, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The segregated school was named for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the African-American poet. Review his poetry here.
“Hope is tenacious. It goes on living and working when science has dealt it what should be its deathblow.” — Paul Laurence Dunbar
Arizona desegregated its schools a year before the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 is not a well-known fact of African American black history.
325 W 2nd St, Tucson | Sign up to take a tour at thedunbartucson.org
Read on for more thought-provoking facts about black history in Arizona…
3.) Sierra Vista: Fort Huachuca Museum
After the Civil War, black men moved out of the South and away from slavery to make new lives for themselves and their families. Many first came to the Southwest via the Underground Railroad or as Buffalo Soldiers, one of the Army’s elite black cavalry corps. Buffalo Soldiers are key parts of Afro American history in Arizona.
At Fort Huachuca Museum, located in what is now a National Historic Landmark and active military base, you’ll discover how the fort became the base for the 10th Cavalry Regiment in 1913. The famed 10th Cavalry was composed of African American soldiers. Their adversaries, the Native Americans gave them the name “Buffalo Soldiers.” From 1916–1917, the base was commanded by Charles Young, the first African American promoted to the rank of colonel.
Also of note for famous African Americans black history, Fort Huachuca is the birthplace of African-American poet and activist Jayne Cortez. Her father, a career soldier, served in both world wars. Click here to check out the price of one of her most famous books entitled Jazz Fan Looks Back.
The army museum, which is currently closed because of COVID-19, is situated on an active Army base. Check closure status at
41401 Grierson Ave, Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista, Arizona | 800-288-3861
Next: learn more about black history and the Buffalo Soldiers at…
4.) Camp Verde: Fort Verde State Historic Park
At Fort Verde State Historic Park, learn some black history in USA by exploring the former US Military Headquarters building where Buffalo Soldiers reported for duty. It is one of three historic buildings listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places and furnished in the 1880s period. Troop I of the 10th Cavalry was the first Buffalo Soldiers troop that served at Fort Verde.
Artifacts, photos, videos and interpretive exhibits deliver the stories of Arizona’s Indian Wars and those who lived and served at Fort Verde.
The state park turns into a living history museum Arizona for Fort Verde Days October 10-11, 2020. Flag-raising and lowering ceremonies, Buffalo Soldiers and Indian Wars period re-enactors, cavalry drills, a fashion show and a vintage baseball game are all part of the action. The park is now reopened.
125 E. Hollamon Street, Camp Verde | azstateparks.com/fort-verde
5.) Flagstaff: Murdoch Community Center
Another Paul Laurence Dunbar namesake school was located in Flagstaff. What once was the segregated Dunbar Elementary School, is now the Cleo Murdoch Community Center. The center is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but you can drive by and see the mural depicting famous black history figures from Flagstaff, community leaders and others from the segregation era.
Portraits include that of Joan Dorsey, who broke the color line in the airline industry when American Airlines hired her as the first black flight attendant in the United States in 1964. Joan, born and raised in Flagstaff, attended Dunbar Elementary School. In 2008, American Airlines honored her as one of the important black women in black history at the C.R. Smith Museum of Aviation in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans is Joan’s niece.
203 E. Brannen Avenue, Flagstaff | www.southsideflagstaff.com
6.) Yuma: Alex Dees Memorial Team Roping Classic
Alex Dees’ reputation as a livestock breeder, consultant, and judge was known worldwide. The third-generation agriculturalist raised Brangus cattle on his ranch, which African American farmers settled in the 1920s. The Alex Dees Memorial Team Roping Classic remembers the Arizona rancher, and his achievements, which include:
- National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame
- First black Grand Marshal of the Silver Spur Rodeo and Parade, Yuma
- America Brangus Breeders Hall of Fame
- Outstanding Benefactor Philanthropist of the Year, Heart of Yuma award
- Arizona Hall of Fame
- International Brangus Breeders Association Pioneer Awardee (Dees is one of only two breeders to receive this award.)
Check out the Alex Dees Memorial Team Roping Classic at the Yuma County Mounted Posse Arena on January 16-17, 2021. If you’re eager for more, the 76th Annual Yuma Silver Spur Rodeo is set for February 12-14, 2021. Tentative date for the rodeo parade is February 13, 2021.
Alex Dees is one of the Arizona people who made a difference in black history.
See the award-winning movie about the legendary Alex Dees here:
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey may have been provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of parts of this review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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