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Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale was one of the most distinguished activists, educators, and entrepreneurs in Arizona history. In 1947 she graduated from the historically black Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. The university’s main mission was to cultivate African American teachers, who would become leaders in their local communities. Not long after Ragsdale graduated from Cheyney, she migrated to Phoenix to being a career as a kindergarten teacher at Dunbar Elementary School. Her teaching career was brief, however, because she soon retired from teaching to pursue business opportunities, and to join her husband Dr. Lincoln J. Ragsdale as a leader of Phoenix’s burgeoning civil rights movement.
She became a charter member of the local NAACP, Phoenix Urban League, and Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity (GPCCU). Through her activism, Ragsdale helped desegregate Phoenix, currently the fifth largest city in the U.S. In 1953, she led the way in desegregating Phoenix’s Encanto District, the city’s most affluent and segregated neighborhood. Also in 1953, she helped desegregate Phoenix high schools one year before Brown v. Board of Education
. Eleanor Ragsdale negotiated political partnerships across race lines, worked with black churches in myriad “mutual aid” projects, and served in various black women’s clubs and associations, such as The Links, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She was arguably the most influential black woman in Arizona during the height of state’s civil rights movement.
Matthew C. Whitaker, Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
Arizona State University