I had contacted Beverly Elliott, Director of the new African American Museum of Southern Arizona about arranging a visit and a tour in early March 2023. She easily agreed to a date and time. I then wrote her that I had casually mentioned our tour to friends, who said “Hey, that sound really interesting. Can we go too?”
So the six of us left home on a Monday morning to head for the Student Union building at the U of A. There Beverly greeted us and began the tour of this new, small, one-room musuem. The first exhibit we came to was of the Buffalo Soldiers, the all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry that was stationed throughout Southern Arizona in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These guys accomplished great things, even though they were given inferior equipment, horses, and pay. Should you be interested in the Buffalo Soldiers history, there is a great museum dedicated to them at Fort Hauchuca just west of Sierra Vista. Click HERE to read our story.
As we went from exhibit to exhibit, Beverly began to tell us (all of the six of us are “White”) about her early recollections growing up Black in the Midwest. I asked her about the Green Book. Did Tucson ever have a Green Book? She said no, not to her knowledge. But she was well aware of the Green Book and how it served as a guide for African Americans as they traveled through America. Back in the early 1900s through the 1970s, Black people were not welcome in most tourist accommodations or restaurants and had to be settled in before dark. These towns were called “sundown towns” and Blacks could be arrested or worse if they happened to linger in town past sundown.
According to an article in the Atlantic, forty-four out of eighty-nine counties along Route 66 were considered “sundown towns”. The Green Book was discontinued following the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Finally, after 200 years of slavery and a hundred years of Jim Crow, the United States finally grew up. At least that is what I had believed. Beverly disavowed me of this fantasy, when, as we were leaving, she told us that she does not allow her volunteers at the Museum to wear their identification tags when leaving the building. There have been credible threats against the African American Museum even as recently as last week. Shameful to say the least.“Mrs. Margaret Campbell was the first female African American novelist published in Arizona. She published her book, Iba the Dawn, which is available in UA Special Collections. She lived in the South Park neighborhood at Santa Rita and 29th Street in an underground home. Mrs. Campbell began digging to build the foundation in her home by herself and brought in workmen to complete the job. Her home had three floors, one of which housed a piano. She spoke five languages and gave piano lessons to neighborhood children.” From the Museums’ website.
Also, our Canadian casita guests, Wendy and Richard had this to say.
“We are from Canada, so all the Arizona African American history was new to us. One of the most interesting items was the quilt coding. The various quilts would be hung from windows or clotheslines, and this would inform slave escapees who were using the underground railroad what was a safer route. The docent was very knowledgeable and the visit to the museum was well worth the trip.”
I’ll let Elaine tell you about her and her husband’s experience at the museum.
“Ron and I greatly enjoyed the museum. We were impressed by the director’s depth of knowledge and enjoyed her personal stories as well. I’d have to say the item that most interested me was the Underground Railroad Quilt and its codes for escaping slaves. I didn’t know something like this existed, but as Beverely explained, in spite of skepticism by historians, it has been corroborated independently by women across wide distances. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the case. Also, I was disgusted and saddened when she said the museum and its staff had received threats. You’d think we would be over this as a society but unfortunately, it persists. I highly recommend a visit to this museum when in the University area.”
One of the interesting stories that Beverly shared with us was about the how this Musuem came to be.
In February 2021 Jeremiah “Jody”, our seven-year-old grandson, was assigned to complete a report during Black History month on an African American Hero. He went online and then asked, “Nanu (that’s what our grandchildren call me) don’t you help people with a museum in Michigan?” I said, “Yes, I do.” Then he went on to say, “So, where is the museum I can go to here in Tucson to learn about African American people who lived around here?”
I told him I would look into it and found what I already knew would probably be the case. The history of African American people, particularly around the country, is more like collections of artifacts, hearsay, documents, and things in trunks, garages, basements, and attics. Jody wanted me to know that we should have an official museum in Tucson and I agreed! So, on April 15, 2021 I began my research.
– Beverely Elliott
We, all six of us, highly recommend you visit this small but important Museum. It was definitely worth the hour that Beverly spent with us. She is a terrific educator.
Ms. Karen here. There was a lot to learn in this museum, without the explanations of our guide, Beverly, we would not have learned nearly as much. The museum is a year old, and there are plans. The museum is a work in progress. Be sure to get a tour. Thank you Beverly.
African American Museum of Southern Arizona
Student Union Building
University of Arizona