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Discrimination and Low-Income Issues in Casa Grande in the ‘70s

Sara: OK. Did you ever experience discrimination at the City level while serving on the Council?
Bill: (Laughter.) Well, it depends on what you call “experience.” I guess the most memorable incident was the first time I was elected to the Council. One of the old time neighbor’s fathers came to City Hall and he was late. And I was late, too, but I always thought I was late because they didn’t give me the right information. But when he came, he sat down beside me and he kept saying “Where’s the nigger? Where’s the nigger? Where’s the nigger?” And so I said, “Here he is.” (Laughter) I guess that is the most memorable incident in Casa Grande as such. Of course, when you go to national meetings, you always have difficulty. You know, no one wanted me to sit with them, especially if they were from down South. If there was one person at the table, the other 5 or 8 chairs were taken and this kind of stuff. But, that was expected. That was the way the world was made, and I’m not sure it has changed too much THIS date. (Laughter.)
Sara: Who were the other influential people serving the City of Casa Grande during your Council membership? Does anyone stand out?
Bill: I guess they had names and were recognized in the community. Dewey Powell. Kate Kenyon. Mayor Gwinn. My Mexican partner, the name’ll come to me. He was on the board. But they were known in the community and, back in the ‘70s, you could forget about being elected if you didn’t have a name. That’s why I said earlier, I had a name in education so I always drew more votes than everybody because of my being visible. We had good people on there. They really did make a difference. When we went to meetings in the state of Arizona, I always took my wife with me. I took her with me for a particular reason--so I would never have to be without a partner. But here, I didn’t worry about that. It was nice. It was nice.
Sara: Were there other City committees and commissions that you were involved with at that time, and to what extent?
Bill: Every kind of government funds because they were for low-income (families). I was always appointed to those committees. I had committees running out of my ears… the Governor’s board, the behavioral health board over here on Main Street. There were meetings coming out of my ears. (Laughter.)
Sara: What was the extent of your involvement in some of these? Did it take up a lot of your time or were you involved even further than even meetings?
Bill: I had positions in most of them, Vice President, President. Even on City Council I think I must have served as Mayor Pro Tem at least five times. I always had positions or assignments. I always made a contribution, at least that’s what I thought. I guess I have the kind of background that, if I can’t make a contribution or don’t make a contribution, then it’s not worth my being there. You know I’m failing my task or job assigned to me. I always had a task or job to do, even in the school. Even in the high school, I never got to be head of department, but everybody knew me and the youngsters refused to move along to other counselors because they wanted to stay with me and get the services I had to offer. I thought that I was personally making a contribution even on individual and family levels. I’d have families call me late at night. If youngsters ran off, they’d call me long distance and talk to me. I made a contribution.
Sara: You get this feeling of what you’re talking about, of being an influence, you want to be a leader. Is this from your parents? Did they instill this in you or is this your own?
Bill: I expect so. My dad was a bishop. He was a bishop over the diocese of Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas. So I’ve always worked in the church, always had positions in the church. As I tell people, I have a good resumé. (Laughter.) I’m saying that some of this had to rub off from them. My wife and I took care of her parents ‘til they passed away, then took care of my parents ‘til they passed away. I have two brothers who passed away and I was the guardian in their particular case and this kind of stuff. It seems to me that I have always wanted to help people, to make a contribution. I may not have liked some of the things I got into, but it was my task because it fell at my door, at my feet, so I went forward and worked with it.
Sara: I see you were scout master for the first black scout troop in Casa Grande.
Bill: Yes, the first black scout troop in Casa Grande.
Sara: Was that a good experience?
Bill: It was an excellent experience because we had white kids who wanted to join my troop but their parents forbid them so I had black students and, I think, two Mexican students. One was the Assistant Principal at one of the schools…
Sara: You’re talking about the Middle School?
Bill: Yes. The Assistant Principal was a member of my troop. I remember we had a real, good strong troop. I wanted to take my troop to Disneyland. We had two station wagons, 15-16 kids. So I asked the Elks for assistance and they gave it to me. After that year, they integrated and so I was assigned to the junior high as a social studies teacher.
Sara: Did you leave the boy scouts?
Bill: I left them and no one took them over. So they haven’t had a black troop, I think the troop was #78, the troop has not functioned since. I hated that kind of thing, but I was up to my neck so I couldn’t work at the junior high and go back over to what we called East School at that time to operate a boy scout troop.
Sara: But the Elks did come through and help you?
Bill: Oh, yes. They must have given me $125 to go to Disneyland.
Sara: I have a question now that you’re talking about school. You mentioned that, when you came back to Yuma or moved to Yuma when you came from Oklahoma, you and your brother were the only two black children in the Yuma school?
Bill: In this classroom. There weren’t too many black children period that went to that school. It was amazing to me because I’d never dreamed that I’d go to school with white kids. Here, when I report, they assigned me to Miss Brown’s classroom. All the kids were white except for the two of us. We played real games in those days like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Drop the Handkerchief.” I was amazed at the little white girls that wanted to get next to us because we could run fast. These are the kinds of things that were brand new for me. I’m sure it was new to them, too. It was a genuine good experience. If we didn’t eat at the cafeteria, Miss Brown brought our lunch. Lunch in the cafeteria was three cents, but we couldn’t afford it. The kids would bring three cents. I’d never heard of that because I’d never gone to school with white kids. There weren’t even any Mexicans in the room. Just white and the two blacks. To me, this was a genuine experience, but it came to a climax at the end of the year. (Laughter.)
Sara: How so?
Bill: We moved across the street from where we’d been living, so then we had to go to a colored school. So I passed, I’ll bet you, six white schools to get to a black school in summer. That wasn’t unusual for me at that time. That’s how I thought.
Sara: Why couldn’t you stay in the same school you’d been in?
Bill: We moved outside the city limits. If you’re out of the city limits, you had to go to another school district and none of the others accommodated black or colored children.
Sara: You mentioned that there were only the two of you in that classroom. Where were the other black children going to school in that area?
Bill: The number was small, so maybe there was one in another room, scattered around. There were never too many of them. That’s the problem we have here in Casa Grande. I used to complain a great deal about the school system. I’d have maybe 60 or 70 black youngsters come to the junior high, and when it came to graduation I had 10 if I had that many. So this isn’t a new concept. It’s there. I guess what strikes me the most was Miss Brown was willing to teach me. She was willing to work with me. Of course, I could read, but she was willing to work with me the same as she was willing to work with other students in this group. Maybe we don’t have that kind of liking in many of our classrooms today.
Sara: Do you think that’s why sometimes you start out with 70 black children and by graduation they had dwindled down to 10. They’re just dropping out.
Bill: They drop out, they get kicked out, and all these kinds of things happen or happen to them.
Accomplishments While on City Council Sara: OK. In your opinion, what was the City Council’s greatest accomplishment during the time you served?
Bill: I would say the greatest accomplishment was sponsoring growth in the community, developing relationships and the growth concept—not remaining the same. We had some things to offer, but we had to make it happen. The city limits were increased and these kinds of things.
Sara: You were on that City Council for how long?
Bill: Fifteen years.
Sara: So during that time you believe that…
Bill: Yes. We worked to improve the downtown. We even had a committee to work personally with the downtown sections. These were things I think we were all concerned about in addition to the shopping centers. I was especially concerned with the downtown because I had the argument that I didn’t wish to drive through the town in order to shop at one of the shopping centers. I think my neighborhood appreciated that same kind of thing.
Sara: Were there any issues that were not addressed during your tenure that you wished would have been?
Bill: (Laughter.) Well, I don’t suppose there were any issues that I was overly concerned about that weren’t addressed. If there was an issue, I guess I had this thing that I didn’t think Eastland Park should have been named after Mr. (Len) Cholla. But I was only one person on the Council, and everybody else voted for it.
Sara: What about the downtown issue? Did the Council ignore you on that? Did they go ahead with all the shopping centers? What were the shopping centers during the ‘70s?
Bill: The first one, just after you pass Trekell Road, it was growing. The Gilbert house became empty and it was vacant land so they wanted to develop in that particular area. I think the City Council was a lot more concerned with where they lived than where I lived. From time to time, we would discuss City services. City services on the south side would become delinquent at times, but they never became delinquent over there. I would bring these things up.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to get on the City Council was that where I live now used to be low, very low. Every time it would rain, water would come into our house. So I ran for City Council. A friend of mine was in that area where he had the advantage of big equipment and he literally took the equipment and his men and lowered Chui Chu Road so the water would just keep going. I’ve always appreciated that. I thought the community was outstanding in that kind of thing. It must have rained on a Friday, I remember, so Sunday when we returned from church there was so much food in the house—it almost makes tears come from my eyes the way the community could turn out. It was fantastic! So, in general, I think this is a good community. If there are problems, they are problems that they have learned, and not learned to get rid of them.

Advice for Council Members Today

Sara: OK. In your opinion, what are the major issues facing the City Council today? With your extensive experience, what advice would you offer to City Council members today?
Bill: I definitely would say “Be concerned about the rapid growth.” Don’t outgrow your means of serving, helping and that kind of thing. I think about my retirement. My wife always tells me “Remember now, we can’t spend it all now ‘cause we might live a couple of years longer.” So I say the same thing about the City. They might wish to grow, but look at it carefully. Don’t take services from one community and put it in a new community. That could happen very easily. That would be one of the major things I would be concerned about. Consider growth.
Sara: What advice would you offer to any Council members today?
Bill: Well, I would tell them “Be sure you have adequate information before you vote on certain issues that might be coming up.” I recognize that City Council members are people and they might not have the expertise of the people that they hire. But make sure those people that are hired give them the right kind of information especially before we jump out and grow. Make sure we grow in correct ways. I wouldn’t want to see Casa Grande like Yuma with all those mobile homes. I wouldn’t like to see that. I would definitely tell them to watch that kind of thing. Again, they need to watch the home building thing because, everybody that’s buying a home, that isn’t there first home. They might be leaving an empty house over here to get to the house that they are moving into. They need to watch out for that kind of thing or you’ll have blight in those areas that you thought were filled.
Sara: OK. Are there any other issues?
Bill: Off hand, that’s about the size of it.
End.

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