Watching the PBS series on the Freedom movement in Mississippi may cause one to wonder what race relations were like in Tucson before and during that time.
Meet Mr. Charles Kendrick, founder of Tucson’s Afro-American Heritage Museum, as well as Mr. K’s Barbeque. As the first African American to receive a degree in pharmacy at the University of Arizona, he was one of nine students in his graduating class.
In 1948, Charles left his grandparents’ farm in Texarkana, Texas, to live with his father in Tucson and attend Tucson Senior High School. The Texas “separate but equal” Black high schools were dilapidated, tiny and poorly supplied. The size of the classrooms at Tucson High School, the cleanliness, and most of all - the chemistry and science lab equipment impressed the young Mr. Kendrick.
Mr. Kendrick reports of 670 students, 15 were African-American. One other African American at Tucson High was brought by taxi from Amphitheater School District. However, he reports that there were no problems surrounding his attendance.
Nearing graduation, Tucson High’s counselor advised Charles that, since he was tall, slender and not too dark, he could probably get a job working as a dining-car waiter on the Santa Fe Railroad. It was then that the young Mr. Kendrick realized that his friends who worked on the train were cooks if they were dark, and waiters if they were lighter. He also noticed that at the University of Arizona, where his father had worked since 1935, gardeners were Mexican and janitors were black.
The most awful day of his life, remembered with frustration and anger, was the day he registered at the University of Arizona expecting a discount because his father was an employee. He was turned down because Mr. Kendrick, Sr. was a part time employee. Extremely dismayed, Charles Kendrick walked over to enlist in the Air Force ROTC. As a young man, Mr. Kendrick had noticed African-American airmen from Davis Monthan Air Force Base who had come to relax in the neighborhood clubs. Their polite behavior and grace impressed him. He wanted to be an airman.
However, blow number two hit him. The Air Force ROTC would not accept African American applicants. Charles had to enlist in the Army ROTC - whose first black officer, Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, graduated from west Point in 1877. (Information supplied by the Afro-American Heritage Museum.)
The income from Army ROTC helped greatly during his student years.
After graduation, Charles Kendrick hoped to do his pharmacy internship in Tucson. At that time, Tucson had 72 drug stores. He set out on his bicycle applying for jobs at 50 of them. After 50 answers of “No,” Charles joined the Army and successfully became certified as a pharmacist. He worked in Tucson at Kino hospital for 42 Years.
Meanwhile, for the benefit of his children, Mr. Kendrick opened the Afro-American Heritage Museum, researching the successful as well as the slave Afro-American history. Mr. Kendrick opened Mr. K’s Barbque to pay for the museum. This will be covered in more detail in the second article, Mr. Charles Kendrick’s Afro-American Heritage Museum.