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Celebrating Black History Month with a few Arizona pioneers

Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 21:17:25-05

In celebration of Black History month, you don't have to look to the south when there's plenty of African American pioneers right here in the desert southwest.

Take a trip south of Coolidge just outside the Valley and chances are you'll run into Melvin Moore. At 80 years old, he's the de facto mayor of a place called Randolph.

"This is freedom to me. I couldn't stand to be cooped up in Phoenix or Tucson," Moore said.

After all, he's seen it all. He ran a general store, a gym and served in the sheriff's office for 30 years. He knows the history here; he lived it.

"Randolph was a place that almost all black people lived and were established here," Moore said. "They came here from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas."

On this uncharacteristically gloomy day, it's hard to picture this dusty patch of desert was paradise for those escaping the dust bowl of the depression.

Randolph became one of many black communities across the west giving opportunities in agriculture to countless African American families. Unfortunately, you've probably never heard of them because there's not a lot left in this once bustling town.

"There are just so many good stories and interesting angles to life in Arizona," Moore said.

Chris Reid is struggling to preserve the history of Pinal County; the stories of those African American pioneers fading from the collective memory.

"There aren't many people that are real Arizonans, to begin with so we're all kind of in that," Reid said. "Everybody who came from somewhere else can certainly identify with those early people who came from somewhere else."

Joey Jamerson is a third generation Randolph resident who wants to raise his kids here now. And no amount of money or promise of progress from local industrial interests will make him leave his home.

"Me and my people, we're not for sale," Jamerson said.

It was hope that brought people here back in the 1930s, hope from civil rights leaders you see the streets bear their names King, Malcolm X, but it's the names of those in the next generation people here in Randolph hope will carry this community into the future.

"This is home. This is Randolph," Melvin told ABC15.

For more information, check out the Pinal County Historical Society and Museum.