Filed Under historic school

Segregating Mesa

Booker T. Washington School

The year 1910 marked the beginning of racial segregation in the elementary schools in Mesa. During Mesa’s territorial years (1878-1910), all children were allowed to attend any school. In 1910 the Webster School was built for the Mexican American children. African American children were instructed in a separate classroom in the Webster School until 1920 when the Booker T. Washington School was constructed specifically for the African American children. Originally, it was a two room brick structure but was later expanded. For several years, children from Higley, Gilbert and Chandler came to the Washington School because it was the only school for African American children in this area. Racial segregation for Mesa’s elementary schools lasted until 1954. The Booker T. Washington School was for 1st grade through 8th grade. After the 8th grade, the children went on to Mesa High School, which was never segregated.

In 1927, Veora Johnson began teaching at the Booker T Washington School. She had moved to Mesa from Texas where she was born and raised. Superintendent H. E. Hendricks of Mesa Public Schools had contacted the President of Prairie View University, a historically African American university in Texas, and asked him to recommend someone who could identify with and encourage young, African American students to continue on with their education. They typically started working after the eight grade and did not go to high school. Veora had completed two years of school during each elementary school year. She took many more college courses than typical students and took courses year round enabling her to graduated at a very young age. She had an outstanding GPA, graduating Magna Cum Laude at Prairie View University. Veora was only 16 years old when she came to Mesa to teach at the Booker T. Washington School.

Veora Johnson continued on with her education. She taught at the elementary school during the school year and went to the University of Arizona in Tucson in the summer. She attended several universities and acquired several degrees. She attended the University of Southern California for an English degree and a minor in Administration. She attended Arizona State University for a degree in Secondary education and Elementary Administration. There she became a member of the University Honorary Society. She also attended the University of Hawaii and the University of Houston. She continued with her education until she acquired the administrative credentials needed to become a principal. She became the first African American female principal in Mesa and the first African American female with administrative credentials in the state of Arizona. She served as a teacher for 17 years and as an administrator for 30 years.

Walter J. Venerable started the first grade at Booker T. Washington School in 1927, the same year that Veora Johnson started teaching there. Miss Johnson was Walter’s first and second grade teacher and his favorite teacher. Walter’s parent had known Veora as a little girl in Texas so she became close to Walter’s family. She, along with Walter’s parents, encouraged him to continue his education. Walter became the first African American student to go all the way through twelve years in the Mesa Unified School District. Walter enjoyed his years at Mesa High and competed in track events. He graduated in 1940 and started school at ASU’s Teacher’s College in the fall of 1940. After Walter completed his bachelor degree of Art in 1944, he went back for a short time to Booker T. Washington to teach. He also taught art at Dunbar Elementary School in Phoenix. He served as an art teacher for 37 years and as the head of the Art Department for the Phoenix Union School District for 3 years.


Miss Veora Johnson teaching young students Miss Johnson taught the 1st and 2nd grades at Booker T. Washington School before becoming the principal of the school. Source: Mesa Public Library, The Mesa Room Date: n.d.
Booker T. Washington School The school was built in the African American neighborhood called Northtown with land donated from William Wesley Mitchell. Mitchell develpoed his property located outside of the original city square mile creating a neighborhood for the growing Mexican American population and the African American population giving them the opportunity to become home owners for the first time. This photograph shows the school before additions were made to expand the original two-room brick school. Source: "Our Town: The Story of Mesa, Arizona 1878-1991" Date: Early 1920s
Booker T. Washington School This photograph was taken after additions were made to the school. The city of Mesa purchased the school and demolished it in 1975 after a new Booker T. Washington school was opened at 2260 W. Isabella. Today the Booker T. Washington Activity Center and Park stand in its place. Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona),13 Jun 2014, Friday, Page A8, accessed 27 April, 2018, Date: n.d.
Miss Veora Johnson In 1927, at the young age of 16, Miss Johnson moved to Mesa, Arizona to inspire young African American students to continue their education. She served the Mesa community for 47 years as a teacher and administrator. She served on seven boards, two at the state level, and one by Supreme Court appointment. Miss Johnson was a Golden Soror and lifetime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was a founder and first president of the Delta Beta Omega Chapter of the sorority at Arizona State University and also started the first black Greek letter organization in Arizona, Alpha Sigma. She is the recipient of numerous honors including Mesa’s 1953 Citizen of the Year; Who’s Who in Arizona 1958; World Who’s Who of Women, 1974, and was selected as Woman of the Year by the American Association of University Women in 1967. The Veora E. Johnson Elementary School in Mesa was named in her honor when it opened in 1983. Source: Mesa Public Library, The Mesa Room Date: 1927
Walter J. Venerable Walter was the first African American to complete all twelve years of schooling at Mesa Public Schools. There were, however, four African American students to graduate before him from Mesa High School. Source: Mesa High School Year Book, 1940, via Mesa Public Library, The Mesa Room Date: 1940



Candace Reeb, “Segregating Mesa,” Salt River Stories, accessed December 1, 2023,