Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Encanto District

Street signs marking the historic Encanto District, October 2010 (Image by Debra Groves)

1606 W. Thomas Rd, former home of the Ragsdale family, October 2010 (Image by Debra Groves)

Lincoln Ragsdale, circa 1940s (Source:

Eleanor Ragsdale, circa 1950s (Source:

Bounded by 7th and 19th avenues to the East and West, and McDowell and Osborne Roads to the South and North.  This area is easily accessed by both the Interstates 10 and 17.

The Encanto area is a historical residential district located in north Phoenix with homes dating back to the early 1930’s. After World War II, Phoenix, like much of the United States, was experiencing tremendous residential growth, financed largely through government subsidies and G.I. bill incentives (Doti, 1989). Also, like much of the United States, Phoenix was also highly segregated and lending practices were highly racialized (Whitaker, 2000). The Encanto District was exceptionally so because from its inception it was designed to cater to a white, affluent population, to the extent that minorities were prohibited from purchasing homes in the area in order to maintain the status-quo (Whitaker, 2005). This was maintained through codes adopted by such organizations as the Phoenix Real Estate Board, which enforced penalties for Realtors that did not comply with the ‘whites only’ policy (Whitaker, 2005). Practices such as ‘red lining’, or racial steering by real estate agencies created both exclusive white communities, as well as disproportionately impoverished ones of color (Whitaker, 2005).
 In 1953, however, the first black family, the Ragsdales, became a powerful force for desegregation in the city of Phoenix (Whitaker, 2005). They were members of not only of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Phoenix Urban League, they were also founding members of the Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity (Whitaker, 2005). Being active in the struggle for equal rights, Eleanor Ragsdale, who was employed in real estate, saw an opportunity to advance the integration of blacks into traditionally exclusively white neighborhoods, such as the Encanto-Palmcroft District (Whitaker, 2005).  Eleanor, who was ‘a very fair skinned African American woman with a manner of speaking that betrayed her Eastern heritage,’ was able to view a home located at 1606 W. Thomas Rd, on the northern edge of the District without raising racial suspicions (Whitaker, 2005). In what can be characterized as an ‘under-the-table dealing,’ the Ragsdale family entered the community with the help of a white friend who purchased a home and then transferred the title while the transaction was still in escrow (Whitaker, 2005). The family faced blatant and outright discrimination and acts of intimidation, but paved the way for the eventual desegregation of the neighborhood (Whitaker, 2005).
 Exemplified by the ingenuity and bravery of the Ragsdales, highly motivated and determined individuals continued to organize and advocate for integration racial equality throughout the Civil Rights Movement (Whitaker, 2005). As a direct result of these efforts, Arizona passed a law which ‘banned discrimination in housing, employment, voting, and public accommodations’ in 1965 (Whitaker, 2003). Today, the Encanto District is still predominantly white, but concrete gains in the struggle for integration is reflected in the approximately 25% of the population in the area that identifies as non-white, according to the 2000 Census data.
 - Debra Groves, Carshenia Butler, and Edell Stinett
Doti, L. P., and L. Schwikart. 1989. Fincancing the postwar housing boon in Phoenix and Los Angeles, 1945-1960. Pacific Historical Review. 58: 173-194.
Konig, M. 1982. Phoenix in the 1950’s: Urban growth in the ‘Sunbelt’. Arizona and the West. 24: 19-38.
Whitaker, M. C. 2000. The rise of black Phoenix: African-American migration, settlement and community development in Maricopa County, Arizona 1868-1930. Journal of Negro History. 85: 197-209.
Whitaker, M. C. 2003. ‘Creative conflict’: Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale, collaboration, and community activism in Phoenix, 1953-1965. The Western Historical Quarterly. 34: 165-190.
Whitaker, M. C. 2005. ‘Shooting down racism’: Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale and residential desegragation in Phoenix, 1947-1953. Journal of the West. 44: 34-43.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2010. “Fact Sheet: Zip Code Tabulation Area 85015.” (|86000US85015&_street=&_county=&_cityTown=&_state=&_zip=85015&_lang=en&_sse=on&ActiveGeoDiv=&_useEV=&pctxt=fph&pgsl=860&_submenuId=factsheet_1&ds_name=null&_ci_nbr=null&qr_name=null&reg=null%3Anull&_keyword=&_industry=&show_2003_tab=&redirect=Y)

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