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.