A lesser known piece of ‘The Great Migration’: Phoenix and McNary

Forest History Society, Durham, NC

Cady Lumber’s African American employees lived in a separate part of McNary, Arizona called “Quarters.” This photo was in the April 10, 1926 issue of American Lumberman.

History buffs have likely heard of “The Great Migration” by African Americans from Jim Crow South to the Northeast and Midwest between 1916 and 1970.

However, many are unaware that the migration also included Arizona and the west.

“Phoenix is ​​the best city in America … The friendliest relationships are between Caucasians and people of color.”

This is an excerpt from a 1919 promotional product published by the Phoenix Tribune, Arizona’s first African American newspaper, founded by Arthur Randolph Smith the year before.

Jon Talton

Jon Talton (left) at a book signing for one of his crime novels at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona with a friend and Arizona State University librarian, Jim O’Donnell, in 2018.

While there was segregation in Phoenix at the time, it was nicknamed the Rogue Columnist, according to Jon Talton, former Republic of Arizona columnist who currently works for the Seattle Times.

“They did not have this deep supremacy and prejudice of the southern race. For example, there was no black waiting room in Union Station, ”he said, and he believed that Phoenix was lacking overt racial prejudice until well into the 1960s.

Agriculture and the railroad industries brought many African Americans to the region. Phoenix received a mainline in 1926 when the South Pacific rerouted almost all of its passenger trains through the city. A year earlier, Randolph founded the first predominantly African American union.

“From 1925 on, you had the Brotherhood of Sleeper Carriers and only well-paid African Americans who were sleeper carriers. This has helped sow the black middle class in Phoenix, “said Talton, who wrote in his column:” Mary Green, a domestic servant of former Confederate officer Columbus Gray, was the first recorded black resident in the state in 1868. “

Green was the grandmother of Helen K. Mason, who founded the Black Theater Troupe in Phoenix.

Emancipation Arts LLC

Clottee Hammons is the Creative Director at Emancipation Arts LLC.

A new anthology project called “Indiscernibles” is part of an effort to tell a richer story about African Americans who immigrated to Arizona.

“There are so many heinous episodes of lynching, violence and oppression. In the 1930s, many people were enlisted to come to Arizona from three states that had a terrible history of it, ”said Clottee Hammons, creative director at Emancipation Arts LLC in Phoenix and the idea behind the project.

These three states were Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Hammons said, “Black people in Arizona have never been viewed as migrants or refugees, and thus have not received the respect they have for others who have adapted to life in the state and in the United States. Oklahoma is the place of the freedmen. It wasn’t just Indians on the trail of tears. They took their slaves with them, and we have some of those offspring here in Arizona. “

Originating from Hammon’s previous art exhibition, “Indiscernibles” is a collection of personal essays by African Americans currently living in Arizona that answer two key questions: How did you get to Arizona and why are you staying?

“Black people in Arizona were never seen as migrants or refugees, so they did not get the respect they showed others who had become accustomed to life in the state and the US. Oklahoma is the place of the freed. It wasn’t all Indians the trail of tears. They took their slaves with them, and we have some of those offspring here in Arizona. ”
– Clottee Hammons, Emancipation Arts LLC

Small towns also played a role in attracting African Americans to the state. The small community of McNary in northeast Arizona, formerly known as Cooley, was one of them.

Christopher Harter, associate director of the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, and my former colleague said, “That name change began in 1924 when a logging company in McNary, Louisiana moved all of its operations to Arizona.”

Forest History Society, Durham, NC.

The Cady Lumber Company store was the only place in town for employees to shop. This photo was in the April 10, 1926 issue of American Lumberman.

Harter also described how the logging companies jointly owned by WM Cady and James G. McNary ran out of resources in Louisiana and moved west. “McNary was basically a corporate town. It was a wooden city. This included moving the mostly African American population from McNary, Louisiana to McNary, Arizona. “

At the time of the move in 1924, he said the population of the city of Louisiana was estimated at approximately 3,000 people. The mill and about 500 workers were gradually moved in a train with 21 buses.

Historical photos from the Forest History Society paint a picture of a divided city.

Research on McNary was provided by Carroll G. Barber, a graduate of the University of Arizona.

Barber was a civil rights activist and anthropologist who collected various clippings about McNary, Arizona, and corresponded with those who wrote about the history of the city and its ethnography. He donated his research files to the Amistad Research Center through McNary.

Barber also worked as a librarian for the Tucson Public Library and died in Tucson on May 3, 1999, at the age of 74.

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Carroll G. Barber was a graduate of the University of Arizona, civil rights activist and anthropologist and collected various clippings from McNary, Arizona. He donated his research files to the Amistad Research Center through McNary.

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