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Western African-Americans Pioneers

ARIZONA BUFFALO SOLDIERS ASSOCIATION

African-Americans Pioneers

 

A Brief History

Esteban, A 16th Century Explorer

Probably the first person of African heritage who came to this area was a member of a Spanish expedition. [Smith, 10-12] Esteban was originally from Morocco, and was a slave to a Spaniard. He first arrived in the New World in 1528 with a group sent to Florida to capture Hernan Cortes. Illness and hostile Indian tribes forced the group to leave Florida and flee into the Gulf of Mexico. They were eventually captured by other Indians. Esteban was one of a group who escaped from their captors. Then he joined a group led by a priest, Fray Marcos de Niza, who were searching for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola.

The group traveled through Guadalajara, Compostela, Culiacan, Topia, Petatlan, Vacapa, and Corazones into what is Arizona today. They followed the San Pedro River Valley north until finally reaching the Zuni city Cibola. Esteban reached the city before the rest of the group, and accounts of his fate vary. Some believe he died there. Other reports say that the Zuni rescued him from slavery by reporting that he had died. They then allowed Esteban to live among them and raise a family.

Two of the first recorded African American settlers in Tucson, Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Box, came to this area between 1850 and 1855. They journeyed here from New Orleans and Oklahoma respectively. Wiley Box found work doing manual labor, stage coach driving, and prospecting. Other early settlers included Joe Mitchell, who was a barber and chicken rancher, Harvey Merchant, who was a cook and a cowboy, and Charley "Banjo Dick" Williams. [Henry, p.90] Edmond Robinson arrived in Tucson in the 1890's. By 1905 he and his wife were running a two-story rooming house in Tucson whose tenants included "a German baker, Irish carpenter and Orientals." [Sanchez] By 1900, records show that 86 persons lived in Tucson who identified themselves as of African descent.

Many of the African Americans coming to this region were leaving the southern states looking for new opportunities to establish roots, raise families, and escape racial persecution. Others came to the area as soldiers stationed at Ft. Apache or Ft. Huachuca.

The type of employment found by these early pioneers varied. Some started homesteads or ranches. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, almost all barbers in the area were Black. Some individuals, such as Arthur Lewis, Frank Denkins, and George Braggs, owned their own shops and were able to offer jobs to others. Shoe shine parlors and restaurants were among the businesses that African Americans opened. Others found work as cooks in local hotels. There were African American families who built homesteads and maintained farms. In the early 1900's the Preston Family owned 160 acres near what is now the Palo Verde Overpass. Joe Montcrief and Mary Felix also owned ranches in that area. [Yancey]

Significant numbers of African Americans worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Some performed manual labor by repairing the tracks. Others worked as machinists in the railroad shops, or as baggage handlers and porters. Mining and prospecting brought others to Arizona including Charley Embers who arrived here in 1861.

African Americans could only buy or rent homes and businesses in certain areas of town. Both legal restrictions and the actions of Anglo settlers enforced this discriminatory policy. Many African Americans chose the A Mountain area to build homes.

These African American settlers had come to Arizona Territory searching for freedom and opportunity. Rising above the hardships and racial discrimination they experienced, African Americans helped build the city we know today. They contributed to the vitality of the early Tucson community, as family members, businessmen, and citizens.

The African American community also worked to end racial hatred and discrimination through organized activities and education. In 1884, they formed the "Wide-Awake Colored Club," a political organization that worked to keep its members informed about the political issues facing the community and supported various political candidates. By 1918, the Tucson chapter of the NAACP was formed. Tucson's African American community can be proud of the role they have taken challenging discrimination.

Taken from "In the Steps of Esteban" for more click on link below.

In the steps of Esteban

BLACKS IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

James P. Beckwourth

Mary Fields "STAGECOACH MARY"

Henry O. Flipper

Moses "Black" Harris

Addison Jones, Range Boss

Nat Love

Bill Pickett

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

George Washington-founder of Centralia, Washington

Colonel Charles Young

York, Captain William Clarks black manservant,

Black Cowboys of Texas

Black Indians

Bad boys of the West

Cherokee Bill

The Buck Gang:A Time to Die

LINKS

Ed Dwight First African-American Astronaut Trainee

African-Americans and the American West

Black Pioneers of Oregon

BIBLIOGRAPHIC ESSAY ON THE AFRICAN AMERICAN WEST

African Americans in the Columbia River Basin - Historical Overview

The AFRICAN-AMERICAN MOSAIC

The Western Migration

African American History in the American West: Timeline

Arizona Buffalo Soldiers Association

1201 East Michigan Street - TucsonArizona 85714

 Phone/Fax: (520) xxx-xxx   Email: azbsa@juno.com

www.buffalosoldiersw.com

 

http://tucson.buffalosoldiersw.com/index.html