Historic Effort 

A vital piece of black history is named to a national list of endangered spaces

Morgan Maxwell Jr. can still remember when Fort Huachuca Mountain View Colored Officers Club was built back in 1942 because African-Americans weren't welcome in the same room as white officers.

"There was a white officers' club and a black officers' club," Maxwell says. "Just like there was a colored officers' swimming pool and a white officers' swimming pool."

Maxwell, 84, has seen a lot change when it comes to segregation in America. He grew up as the son of the Morgan Maxwell, who served as principal of Dunbar School, which was built to educate Tucson's black students, who were not allowed to attend elementary and middle schools in Tucson.

Because hotels and motels refused to rent rooms to blacks in Tucson, his father often put up soldiers at his home.

"In Mexico, we were more welcome," Maxwell remembers. "We could go to Aqua Prieta or Nogales and have a beer. In Tucson they wouldn't let any black officers stay in the hotels."

Maxwell was among those on hand last week at a press conference to call attention to the threat of demolition facing the Mountain View Black Officers' Club. The building made the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places last week. Among the other landmarks on the list: Houston's Astrodome, Gay Head Lighthouse in Martha's Vineyard and the historic rural schoolhouses of Montana.

The National Trust noted in a press release that the Mountain View club "is one of the most significant remaining examples of a World War II-era military service club in the United States built specifically for African-American servicemen and women."

Until a few years ago, the Mountain View Colored Officers Club had been leased to a local chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers, which had undertaken efforts to restore the building. But the U.S. Army declined to renew the lease and is considering adding the building to a list of structures scheduled for demolition. An Army Corps of Engineers study determined there was not enough historical value to the building to make it worth saving.

But members of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation nominated the building for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's endangered list.

Retired general Julius Parker wants to see the building saved.

"To some, the Mountain View Officers' Club is an old, splintered WWII building that has no relevance in our society, but to me it is an integral part of the history of the United States Army and America," said Parker. "The preservation of this structure ... will acknowledge the fact that, even during the darkest days of this country's racial evolution, blacks remained loyal to this country and continued to support and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The effort to save the building also got a boost last week from former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.

"The building symbolizes patriotism in the face of the ongoing struggle against racism," the couple wrote in a letter. "This building celebrates and honors Black military history by linking the past to the present so it can be remembered and treasured by future generations. The 'Mountain View Colored Officers' Club' deserves designation as a national landmark and monument as a record in its own right, and as a tribute to the men and women who heroically served there."

Maxwell says it's "terrible" that the building could be demolished.

"I certainly hope they will save it," Maxwell says. "It is true Arizona and American history. Why not show our true history? Why try to hide it?"

More by Jim Nintzel

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