Riches and Division

An excerpt from the book, Tucson: A History of the Old Pueblo from the 1854 Gadsden Purchase

More Racial Tensions; but Also Celebration;and Community Changes

Even as a relatively bigger Tucson was being contemplated during World War II, some local residents were raising objections about the community they then called home. Founded in 1943, the Tucson Committee for Interracial Understanding was a 125-member group that pointed out ethnic and racial tensions in town and sought to eliminate them. The committee quickly ran afoul of the editors of the Arizona Daily Star who labeled it a Communist front organization. This accusation was made after the group had an out-of-town speaker in 1944 who, according to the Star, declared: "Tucson is torn by disunity. The town is a tinderbox of discrimination. All of its racial groups are taught to hate and despise each other."

While the Star admitted there was local discrimination against African Americans, the newspaper, ignoring lots of evidence to the contrary, also stated that no such bias was shown toward either Mexican Americans or Native Americans. Responding to that claim, the Committee for Interracial Understanding stressed that New Mexico and Arizona "are the only two states in the nation with an appreciable Indian population where Indians are not permitted to cast a vote." They also emphasized that members of the Jewish faith were discriminated against in Tucson, with only two of the dozens of regional guest ranches accepting Jews as visitors.

It was bias against African Americans, however, that was the focus of much of the committee's work. That was due, in part, because Blacks were openly discriminated against during the war, including at Tucson's theaters. "Whenever we attended the movies," remembered Pearlie Mae Purdie decades later, "we always had to sit in the balcony. The balcony was called 'the crow's nest,' because we were [b]lack. We weren't allowed to sit on the main floor."

Native Tucsonan, Ruben Moreno, summarized the local situation simply: "There was," he said of his hometown, "quite a bit of racism."

A particular case cited by Moreno was the treatment of his boyhood friend, Henry Oyama, along with Oyama's sister and widowed mother. Even though Oyama's mother was from Mexico and spoke Spanish, because she had been born in Japan, the family was sent off to a federal internment camp in Arizona along the Colorado River. After 18 months in the camp, Oyama and his mother took jobs in Kansas City and he was eventually drafted into the U.S.

click to enlarge Riches and Division
Courtesy of the Tom Peterson, Jr. photograph collection
Cele Peterson

Army. Later he recalled: "The only requirement in the internment camps was that you stay there. They had barbed wire around the camp that was like what you see for ranches so that cattle don't get out."

A minuscule percentage of the 117,000 Japanese Americans ordered nationwide to report to internment camps refused to comply. The few resisters were sent to prison instead, and one of those penal facilities was on Mount Lemmon. Gordon Hirabayashi of Seattle, a protestor of internment, hitchhiked to Arizona in 1943 in order to serve his 90-day jail sentence. He helped build the Catalina Highway while on Mount Lemmon. Also imprisoned at this mountaintop camp were conscientious objectors to the war effort, among whom were Hopi Indians and members of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Even as these American citizens were held in confinement, foreign prisoners of war were incarcerated at 23 other sites across the state. Of these, four were in Southern Arizona including a camp in Sahuarita for 250 Germans.

Tucson was also the scene of the hanging of one American soldier. Arrested and convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl downtown in a railroad boxcar, private Francis Line never disputed his guilt. As a result, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the sentence and a makeshift gallows was erected at Davis- Monthan. Line was hung early on the morning of March 26, 1943, becoming the only soldier ever executed on the base.

A little over two years later, Tucson quietly marked the end of the war in Europe on May 8. Church services were held, stores and banks closed for the day, while at Tucson High the students sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" during an assembly.

If Tucson had been quiet in May, it was a different story on August 14, 1945, when President Harry S Truman proclaimed to the nation in a radio address that the Japanese had surrendered. By then, Tucson was really ready to party. "A very noisy but welcome siren began to screetch [sic] to all Tucsonians that it was time to close shop and begin the celebration," Oliver Drachman excitedly announced in "Letter from Home."

Hearing the siren, people flocked downtown for an impromptu parade that included one car occupied by four teenagers. The coupe was dragging scrap metal and a washtub while carrying a sign which proudly announced: "We did it—again!" One of those watching the parade was an elderly man who was kissing every woman he saw. "I just love it," he told the Arizona Daily Star, "and you know there isn't one of them hardly that objected to it... . I'll be 80 in December and I like the gals just as well as I ever did. And they like me, too."

The end of the war meant Consolidated Vultee Aircraft closed. About the same time, Davis- Monthan was deactivated with only a storage area for airplanes remaining. By early 1948, however, some military activity would return to the base.

The same resurgence after the war could not be said of the railroad. Beginning in 1946, Southern Pacific began replacing its high maintenance steam engines with more efficient diesel-powered locomotives and the company's local workforce started to steadily shrink. As one railroader recalled of this time: "When the modern equipment came in, it was different. You saw men going, jobs being abolished and lost."

Many of those eliminated railroad jobs were union positions, and because of a combination of factors, the role of labor unions in Arizona was generally declining after the war. This erosion was strengthened in November 1946 when voters approved a "right-to-work" provision for the state, thus making union membership voluntary for employment.

The number of auto courts in town also slowly began to decrease around the same time. As commercial airplane travel became more common and chain-owned motels started to proliferate, the era of the "mom and pop" auto court was beginning to disappear.

While local jobs were being lost in the airplane maintenance, railroad, and auto court industries, Tucson's economy, nonetheless, was enjoying some new stimulus in the post-war era. One of those growth areas was movie making.

After sitting idle for several years, with only one film during the war having been shot west of town at what was dubbed Old Tucson, by the end of 1945 the movie set was literally collapsing. "The roof of every building in the pioneer village has fallen in," reported the Tucson Daily Citizen at the end of 1945. In 1946, thankfully, the movie set was leased to the Junior Chamber of Commerce. They made some much- needed improvements, and in just more than a decade after the Jaycees took over, 20 movies were filmed at Old Tucson including such Western standards as Broken Arrow (1950), 3:10 to Yuma (1956–57), and Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957).

Other factors brought new entertainment to the growing community. Tucson Greyhound Park opened in October 1944 for a 60-day season. In 1947, radio station KCNA was financed by well- known popular writer Erskine Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road published in 1932, and God's Little Acre the following year. Caldwell had moved to town early in the '40s, and a few years later, retailer Cele Peterson was taking to the airways from her fashionable downtown shop for a daily radio program. Other entertainment additions to the community included the opening of a recreation hall near the Yaqui village on the northside of town and the 1945 establishment of a men's professional golf tournament. The El Casino Ballroom on 26th Street debuted a few years later in a building that would be called: "the social center for Tucson's Mexican American community."

Bringing entertainment of a different sort to Tucson was Bill Veeck. Upon purchasing the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team in 1946, Veeck was intent on moving their spring training to the Southwestern desert where he owned a large ranch east of Tucson. The primary reason for the move, Veeck explained, was the blatant racism toward African American baseball fans that he had personally witnessed in Florida.

Persuading the New York Giants to join his team in Arizona, Veeck's all–white roster trained at Randolph Municipal Baseball Park, a facility that opened almost two decades earlier to accommodate a team in the Arizona State League. The first major league spring training game was played on March 8, 1947, with Manager Lou Boudreau's Indians scoring two runs in the bottom of the first on their way to a 3–1 victory in front of almost 5,000 fans. (The stadium would be named in honor of Hiram "Hi" Corbett during 1951.)

In the spring of 1948, the two baseball teams returned to Arizona, and by that time the Indians' roster included Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. Because of the color of his skin, Doby was excluded from staying at the Santa Rita Hotel where the rest of the team boarded. When his wife and infant daughter joined him in Tucson a few years later, they too weren't allowed in the hotel and wouldn't be for several more springs. "The town and the weather were great; some of the people were and some weren't," Doby charitably recalled of his days in Tucson.

Despite overt racial discrimination like that, the Southern Arizona tourism industry had generally benefited from World War II since overseas travel was obviously out of the question. "Tucson had 112 guest ranches within 50 miles and also eight important private schools that attracted youngsters from wealthy families from the Midwest and East Coast," observed Roy Drachman. "When the war ended," he continued of the local economy, "there was a pent-up demand for all kinds of buildings that could not be constructed during the war—especially homes."

click to enlarge Riches and Division
J.D. Fitzgerald
David Devine

The building boom that followed World War II began to transform the community as it spread out like no other time in its history. Concurrently, tragedy struck when 33-yearold John Anderson, chief criminal investigator for the Pima County Sheriff 's department, lost his life in Sabino Canyon. A 15-year-old boy had climbed up one of the canyon's steep cliffs but couldn't make it to the top and had to spend the night on a narrow ledge. In the morning, Anderson was lowered from the top, dropped a rope to the boy, and then started back up. Losing his grip, he fell 500-feet to his death, a tragic scene captured by Arizona Daily Star photographer Sam Levitz. After the boy was pulled to safety, he said simply of Anderson: "He didn't yell or say a word."

Two years earlier, in 1946, the Jácome's family-run downtown department store celebrated its 50th anniversary by holding a large banquet at the Pioneer Hotel on Stone Avenue. By following the advice of their father, Carlos C. Jácome, to "Make your store a friendly one and you will live forever," six of his sons, three of whom had served in the military during the war, successfully carried on the retail business.

The war and its aftermath brought many people to town, and to obtain enough water for all these new residents, while at the same time consolidating its utility empire, the Tucson City Council started to acquire privately-owned water companies by annexing land into the city limits. By 1947 the city had purchased eight private water companies, one of the many legacies left behind by retiring mayor of Tucson, the 75-year-old native of Norway, Henry O. Jaastad. During Jaastad's 1933 to 1947 remarkable reign as mayor, water storage for the community went from 3.0 to 11.5 million gallons being pumped from 27 wells. "No filters or settling basins are necessary," it was written of the pristine water supply, "as the water is clear and practically free from sediment."

Other accomplishments during Jaastad's record-setting seven terms in office included the implementation of land-use zoning laws, along with tripling the miles of paved streets to 90. A $75,000 addition to the Carnegie public library had also been made and, in cooperation with the federal government, $750,000 was spent to construct La Reforma public housing project south of downtown.

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