Armed with only a handful of photos and memories, staff members and volunteers at the Chandler Museum are trying to rebuild a piece of the city’s past by telling the story of the Goodyear School.
They want to take residents back to the early 1900s, when the Goodyear tire company farmed cotton on two ranches in the Valley. And they want people to remember what is was like for workers, mainly Hispanic or blacks, who came from all over the South and Southwest to pick cotton to be used to make car and truck tires.
It was a time when racial segregation was the norm, even in Chandler.
"It didn’t only happen in Mississippi," said Jan Dell, the museum’s coordinator. "It happened here."
People called the farming camp Goodyear, even after the tire manufacturer phased out its East Valley ranch, located in the Ocotillo area, to consolidate its operations to its Agua Fria Ranch, now called Litchfield Park and Goodyear.
But farming, and life, continued in the East Valley Goodyear. Around 1920, the Southwest Cotton Co., which had taken over the ranch from the Goodyear company, constructed a four-building school on Basha Road, across from where the Bashas’ supermarkets corporate offices now stand.
Teachers did their best to educate the camp’s children despite having three or four grades per classroom. Rows of desks were typically organized by grade, and students often had trouble concentrating on their own studies while the teacher instructed other grades.
By 1943, the Chandler school district had built more schools and made Goodyear School the area’s school for black children. For the next 10 years, Chandler’s elementary-aged black students were bused to Goodyear School, which by then was old and lacked bathrooms and playground equipment, while white students who lived at the camp were taken to school in the city.
Charlene Jackson, 65, remembers her days at the school, though she said it was called Ocotillo School when she attended. At that time, going to the segregated school was just a way of life.
"We didn’t know any different," she said.
That changed in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered all schools to be desegregated.
The buildings sat unused, except to transients and vandals, for nearly 50 years until the last one was torn down in 2004.
Today, museum curators are looking for former students, photos and artifacts to help tell the former Goodyear’s story.
All they have are 20 oral histories and six pictures for an exhibit they plan to unveil in November. "You can’t really do an exhibit with six pictures," Dell said.
For more information on the exhibit, call (480) 782-2717.