I graduated from Flagstaff (AZ) High School in 1958. A recent story local San Francisco television about Kimberly Bryant and her organization, Black Girls Code, made me think about how much, and how little has changed since I was in High School.
Flagstaff was always a place where multiple races lived in a state of tension where harmonious relaxation never really occurred. It was not just White / Black. There were always sizable populations of Hispanic and Native Americans in town, and in the school. But something was happening that introduced some change, but not enough.
Most of the African American population lived in the SE part of town… south of Rt. 66 and the Santa Fe tracks, East of Agassiz St. Their children went to the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Elementary School where only they attended. The "Mexicans" and others went to South Beaver School. Only the latter still exists. Dunbar was shut as the result of Brown vs.Board of Education decision. It's last principal was Wilson Riles, later Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of CA.
Those Dunbar students were my classmates at Flagstaff High School in the 1950's. One of them stood out to the extent that would occasionally check what happened to Joan Dorsey. When I knew Joan, she was a member of the National Honor Society and a leading singer in our school choir. Then we went our separate way, Joan to the University of Arizona and I to the University of Redlands. After graduating with a degree in education, Joan became the first black stewardess at American Airlines.
There are always those who break down barriers. Joan was one of those. It seems that Kimberly Bryant is another, only society has changed to the extent that now Kimberley is getting girls, black girls, interested in computers and engineering. It is a long way from aspiring to be a well trained waitress as a career goal. But there is still a long way to go and leaders like Bryant need support.
Now the old Dunbar School has been re-purposed and Joan and Wilson are getting a measure fo the credit that they deserve. Last August, the Arizona Daily Sun carried the story of a new mural on the old building... one with pictures of both Riles and Dorsey.
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