Did You Know: George Washington Carver High School Has Rich History

October 18, 2013

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
The entrance to the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center on 415 East Grant Street in Phoenix.

There is a high school that played an important part in Phoenix history. It was the only legally segregated high school in Phoenix. One of its former students remembers how common it was to have teachers with a master’s degree at a time when few people did.

The school closed in 1954. Nearly 40 years later, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Can you guess what it is?

When it first opened in 1926, it was known as the Phoenix Union Colored High School. After it closed, it became a storage building for the local school district until 1991. Did You Know the George Washington Carver Museum building could have been demolished had it not been for a group of alumni including Fred Warren who stepped in and saved it?

“Four alumni went to the school board to purchase the building and raised money from those of us that had graduated from here, and they decided to have a museum," Warren said.

Warren graduated from Carver in 1953. He was among the first group of former students who helped raise funds to purchase the building.

“There was a door here that opened up to a room that had a counter and that was where the school secretary was," Warren said.

The school was renamed after scientist George Washington Carver in 1943. Warren said the high school was a point of pride for the community despite being built on what was a four acre landfill surrounded by warehouses.

Warren recalled how the school was built between two African American communities south of downtown Phoenix. He said it was strategically put here to serve as many African American students as possible. His parents, aunts and uncles also attended Carver.

“This is the library and was the library when we were in high school. It’s pretty much the same," Warren said.

Warren said part of preserving the building included increasing its impact on the community. As a matter of fact, he said the library continues to be used for educational programs during special events like Black History Month.

He pointed out offices and classrooms that have been converted into galleries. One room commemorates the Buffalo Soldiers. Another is filled with Carver Monarchs athletic photos, trophies and newspaper clippings.

“The school won awards, the marching band, the ROTC unit, and of course the teachers and the parents preached excellence," Warren said.

Warren said Carver High School impacted the early integration of Phoenix schools, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court made the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He knew fellow students whose parents filed a suit against the Phoenix Union High School District. They claimed it was illegally segregating Carver high school students. In 1953, Judge Fred Struckmeyer Jr. ruled in their favor and that segregation in Arizona was unconstitutional.

“Parents filed the suit because Phoenix Union was the largest high school in Phoenix, and it’s just a few blocks away, and they saw no need to come to a segregated school when the largest high school was down the street and offered many programs that were not available to us here," Warren explained. 

And here is one final bit of history for you. In 1951, the all black Carver High School and the all Latino Miami or some say Miama High School basketball teams played for the state championship. The match between the two segregated schools was made into a play. It was shown at the Herberger Theater in Phoenix. The George Washington Carver Museum plans to bring the full length production to its own auditorium.