Phoenix to honor late activist with street signs

By Christina Estes
Published: Monday, March 11, 2024 - 12:39pm

City of Phoenix
In this artist rendering, the city of Phoenix will be honoring Vernell Myers Coleman with a ceremonial street sign.

More than 30 years after a Phoenix activist died, she’ll be honored with a street in her name. 

“This is indeed precious,” Charlesetta Coleman Miller addressed council members as they approved a ceremonial street sign honoring her mother: Vernell Myers Coleman, “And, I am just overwhelmed.”

While living with severe arthritis, Vernell Myers Coleman raised four children in the city’s Matthew Henson Housing Project. In the 1960s, she helped form a tenants council and rent strike to force the city to improve living conditions. Mayor Kate Gallego noted that Coleman organized a Juneteenth celebration in 1968 that’s continued ever since.

“To those who doubt one person can make a difference, here is clear evidence of how much leadership matters,” she said.

Coleman is also credited with improving relationships between community and police.

“She was a very early in trying to develop police community relations, including with athletic activities, and just making sure that officers and young people got to know each other in more casual settings, which is a best practice that we still talk about today,” Gallego said.

Coleman died in 1990, at the age of 71.

Coleman family
Vernell Myers Coleman,

A dedication ceremony will be held in March when Vernell Myers Coleman Way signs are installed at Seventh Avenue and Buckeye Road. 

A city report highlighted other ways in which Coleman worked outside the Matthew Henson area:

“She served as a commissioner of the Leadership and Education of the Advancement of Phoenix (LEAP) for three years during the 1960s. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Phoenix Urban League and the City of Phoenix Housing Advisory Board. She also served as both the chairwoman and treasurer for the Phoenix Human Resources Council."

In the late 1970s, Mrs. Coleman began preparing healthy dinners for the elderly in her housing project. Mrs. Coleman was instrumental in helping to organize the St. Mary's Food Bank with Founder John Van Hengel, and she served on the board for several years. She also expanded her meal service and continued to cook every Wednesday for the program through 1982. 

As a member of First Institutional Baptist Church, Mrs. Coleman was on the Pastor's Aide Committee where she continued to utilize her celebrated organizational, fundraising, and cooking skills. Alongside her long-time friend Hallie Anderson and other women on the committee, Mrs. Coleman worked diligently to raise funds to pay off the church's deed. They did this by selling dinners from Mrs. Coleman's kitchen and holding rummage sales with quality merchandise that she solicited from department stores such as Goldwater's, JCPenney, Diamond's, etc. The church's Deed of Reconveyance was secured under the ministry of the late Robert N. Nesby. 

For more than 40 years, Vernell Coleman diligently worked to improve the lives of the poor in Phoenix. She also campaigned for the Seventh Avenue Clinic, which provided free podiatry to the elderly and handicapped.”