by Jay Mark)
This month marks the 88th African-American History Month.
. Carter G. Watson, the father of Black history, proposed the idea for such an observance in 1926, describing it as “a way to bring to light the contributions of Black people to American history.”
Locally, mainly because of a lack of information, it has been challenging to learn about the contributions Blacks made to the growth and development of Tempe.
Thanks to a remarkable effort by Jared Smith, curator of history for the Tempe History Museum, and the 17-member African-American Advisory Group created in 2008, we now know much more than we did only six years ago.
As Tempe Republic reporter Dianna M. Náñez related last week, just in time for Black History Month, Jared’s new book, published by the museum, has compiled for the first time a fascinating narrative of the African-American Experience in Tempe.
Through this publication, which is available free at the museum, we better understand the many accomplishments of Tempe’s African-Americans.
Blacks were slow to settle in Arizona. At the time of Tempe’s founding in 1871, only 155 were recorded throughout the territory.
With the arrival of the “Buffalo Soldiers” brought in to help fight in the Apache wars during the 1880s, and the railroad in 1887, the Black population exploded to 1,357 by 1890.
For its first 90 years, Tempe was considered a “sundown town” where Blacks were welcomed for agricultural and other daily labors. But they were encouraged to live elsewhere.
Through Jared’s research we learn Mary Green was the first to purchase property in what is now Tempe.
When she homesteaded 160 acres in 1888 and erected a modest brick home, however, the land near present-day Rural and Warner roads was in the county, far from Tempe’s town limits.
By 1893, Mary’s son Moses was reported to be a “colored barber in Tempe.”
Although Mary Green had relocated to Phoenix by 1900, most of her children and grandchildren continued to call Tempe home.
In 1914, Fred Green, Mary’s third child, moved with his wife and son into a home at the edge of town along old Eighth Street.
When Fred died in 1917, he became the first Black to be interred at Tempe’s Double Butte Cemetery. Regrettably, the grave’s specific location has been lost to time. Since 2011, the Tempe History Museum has participated in Black History Month through a series of special programs. Next up is a free presentation Saturday night, Feb. 22, in the museum’s program room.
The 7 p.m. session begins with a presentation by the Buffalo Soldiers of the Arizona Territory and a gospel music program by the South Phoenix Baptist Church Singers.
The program will include the Woods Family art and a presentation to the winners of a Tempe Black History Month high-school essay contest.
Jay Mark assists the Tempe History Museum with exhibit design. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org