Wednesday, December 1, 2010

George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center

Statue of George Washington Carver, 2010 (photo by Edell Stinnett)

African Dolls and Statue, 2010 (photo by Edell Stinnett)

415 E Grant St Phoenix Arizona: Interstate 10 South to 7th Street to Grant and East to Grant and 4th Streets
The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is an historical edifice dedicated to the preservation of African American tradition, heritage, and pride, and is located in downtown Phoenix. Centered among the buildings many photos, artifacts, and displays of African American history are John Waddell’s life- sized renditions of the four young girls who died in the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 Birmingham Alabama. Shadowless, they stand in the buildings Sculpture Garden. Prior to its current use, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center building once housed the educated minds of African American Phoenicians, as the Phoenix Colored School from 1913 to 1926, Phoenix Union Colored High school from 1926 to 1943, and from 1943 to 1954 as the George Washington Carver High School.  

When I arrived on Black Friday, I expected that the museum would be closed for the holidays, but surprisingly I was granted access and a tour of the premises by the caretaker, Ronnie Hill. Though the museum is currently closed for renovations until 2011, some exhibits were still on site. A wringer washing machine, washtubs and washboards to predate washing machines, dolls, paintings, photographs, and a handmade quilt in the foyer were just a few of artifacts being refurbished on site. Mr. Hill says he and his parents came to live in Phoenix, “like most black folks did,” when the car they were travelling in broke down, in 1932.  

The exclusionary practice of segregation in Phoenix public schools became law in March of 1909, when Arizona’s Territorial Legislature overrode the veto of Governor Joseph Kibbey. In 1910 Kibbey, who was also an accomplished attorney, represented African American Samuel E. Bayless in a lawsuit to oppose now having to send his children to a segregated school across the railroad tracks and some distance from his home. In the ruling, the Maricopa County Superior Court acknowledged that black children “. . . were ‘not afforded educational facilities substantially equal to the educational facilities given and afforded’ to white children in the district.” (1) However, in upholding the statute for segregation, the Arizona Supreme Court citedPlessy v. Ferguson and comparable precedent rulings. Racial segregation in Phoenix continued well into the Civil rights era of the 1960’s, when the notorious squalid environmental conditions in South Phoenix were decidedly racial. Many of the black, Latino, and Asian residents of Phoenix lived in shacks in close proximity to employment and industrializing pollutants of the railroads, factories, and plants, while white residents lived in the suburbs of North Phoenix. (2)
Phoenix’s first colored school was held in a less than adequate class room, a lean-to lean located at Van Buren and 1st streets in 1913. Eventually staff and students relocated to an actual building on Jefferson and 9th streets, and in 1926 the school relocated to 4th and Grant streets, and was renamed Phoenix Union Colored High School. In 1943, the name was changed to honor world renowned African American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor, George Washington Carver. After the landmark Supreme Court ruling mandating school desegregation in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, integration led to the discontinuation of the site as a school, and today this building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. (3)
When questioned about the isolated location of the museum from the Phoenix Historical and Cultural District proper, Mr. Hill said the month of February, Black History Month, is very popular with local schools, and during the remainder of the year, cultural events and  public and private bookings, donations, and volunteers help to finance and maintain museum operations. Today, the wealth of knowledge stored at the Phoenix George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center continues to educate young minds for hope of continued diversity for racial and culturally equality. 
- Edell Stinett, Carshenia Butler, and Debra Groves
1. The Promise of Brown v Board of Education A Monograph. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.  March 2005.
2. The Geography of Despair: Environmental Racism and the Making of South Phoenix, Arizona.  USA. Bolin B. & Grineski, S. & Collins, T.

3. Desegregating the Valley of the Sun - Phillips v. Phoenix Union High School. Mathew C. Whitaker.

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