Story and photos by D.L.White
On paper and in planning, it was conceived as the first of many monthly clean ups around the historic Carver Museum and Cultural Center. However, once the volunteers which consisted of youth and some new comers to the Valley, became fully aware of where they were, the questions and inquisition began.
The flyer that went out inviting the community to “lend a hand” suggested those interested in spending a few hours of their early Saturday morning, might want to BYOYT (bring your own yard tools) on over to the Carver Cultural Center and Museum, 405 E. Grant Road, just south of Chase Field and a “stones throw” from the heart of downtown Phoenix to aide in viable community service for a notable cause.
The museum originally opened in 1926 as the Phoenix Colored High School. It quickly became a pillar in the Phoenix landscape for youth and families. While its primary purpose was to educate and prepare black youth academically, the site soon become a community meeting place accommodating many social events.
“This was ours” said Tommie Williams Sr., to a visiting youth group from Mesa Community College a few summers back. Said Williams (at that time), “Prior to this building being built most Black youth in the area attended multiple level classrooms and many on dirt floors. This place was special then and it still is today.”
On Saturday, April 16, an impressive number of volunteers came out to do their part. Prentice Moore, president of the Phoenix Chapter of 100 Men, brought a number of youth active in the 100s Youth Initiative entitled Men of Tomorrow. Members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Phi Beta, Omega Psi Phi, and the Tuskegee Airman were all on site as well as individuals who were not attached to any service organization but answered the call to assist.
The area around and within the gates of Carver was cut, trimmed, and debris picked up. A storage area was cleaned and dozens of bags of grass and leaves lined the structure as the dumpster’s on site were already filled with cut weeds and grass.
“Yes, this is great, there was much that needed to be done and much more to do. This is a great start,” noted Crump.
As the youth and older volunteers were working, conversations could be heard, “All the Black in Phoenix had to go to this one school back in those days,” said one youth as another quickly chimed in, “They all could not have gone here, that would be like me living where I live and not going to the school close to me.”
“Well that was exactly what happened,” began Enos Lewis, who was on sight signing out yard tools and various equipment.
“You see,” started Lewis, “In those days, there were laws in Arizona very similar to those in the deep South, that did not allow Black students and white students to go to high school together here in Phoenix.
“Yes, we read about Jim Crow laws, I can’t think of the word but it is a French word that means the kind of law Jim Crow was,” said another youth in reference to De jure laws in the South and De facto laws in many Northern states.
“Former Chandler Mayor Coy Payne and his sister Ruth, had to get a ride all the way over here from Chandler because they were not allowed to attend Chandler High School.
“What! I go to a school out in Chandler now,” said one youth with a frown. You mean if I lived back then, I would have had to get a ride all the way over here? What time did they have to get up in morning,” asked a youth, to multiple replies of “Early!”
“Yes, absolutely, if you wanted an education and everyone wanted an education for their children or themselves so they made that drive everyday and were glad to do it. This was a special place I have been told. The teachers cared about the students. Everyone knew everyone, this was family,” added Ron Ellison, a planner for the City of Phoenix who donated several cases of water for the day.
Former Vice Mayor Calvin Goode, took the youth and many adults into the Living Memorial at Carver that commemorates the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, that claimed the lives of four young girls in Alabama in 1963. The recording was played so everyone could hear the artist’s voice as to his incentive for the design.
Outside, in front of the museum is the statue of Dr. George Washington Carver. The young people were asked if they knew anything about Carver and several replied and quoted information during a break from cutting grass and pulling weeds. One youth noted that Carver taught at Tuskegee Institute where B. T. Washington was over the college. “I did research and Dr. Carver could have gone to a number of colleges and made more money but he chose to stay at Tuskegee and help the farmers in the South,” said a youth as two others disagreed until Moore confirmed the bit of information.
“We are actually out here today to commemorate the day in 1896 that Carver accepted a teaching position at Tuskegee,” said Moore, adding Dr. Carver would be proud of you guys today, and so are we.”
Those participating in the clean up effort were treated to bar-b-que, peach cobbler prepared by John Zackery and family (Michigan transplants now calling Phoenix home now). Plenty of water was also on hand for the volunteers. The event was well worth the morning’s work and time spent.
The Carver Museum has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991.