By the time Arizona became a state ninety-nine years ago, African Americans had been living in Tucson since 1855. Schools were integrated in Arizona's Territory days, and African Americans filled needed niches as homesteaders, cowboys and railroad workers.
Photo: Gisela Telis
The Dunbar Coalition, headed by Cress Lander, is renovating the Dunbar School and turning it into a museum and cultural center.
Things changed when Arizona became a state, however. Tucsonan Cressworth Lander’s family homesteaded at what is now the corner of Speedway and Pantano, and saw the change unfold. One key difference, says Lander, was segregation.
In 1910, over 2300 students were enrolled in the Tucson Unified School District, and of those 41 were African Americans. Statehood meant that suddenly, only two years later, those few Black students found themselves forced to attend separate schools.
The Dunbar School at 325 W. Second St., completed in 1918, was constructed specifically for those few students.
2011 is Arizona's Centennial year. To explore our state's complicated racial legacy, AZPM talked to graduates of the Dunbar School about their experiences in segregated Tucson; the teachers, students and one visionary principal who made a difference in their lives; and the power of education in creating social change.