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Arlena Seneca  (b. 1906, d. 2007)
Arlena Seneca George Washington Carver High School
Arlena Seneca was an excellent science teacher at the George Washington Carver High School in Phoenix during the era of segregation. She later worked in integrated schools and also led civil rights organizations. In 1971, Seneca became the Director of Human Relations for Phoenix Union High School District.

Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Women in Education

George Washington Carver High School served African American students in Phoenix from 1927 to 1954, when the city's schools desegregated. Students from as far away as Chandler attended Carver High School because some towns provided no high school education for African American students. The school became known for its great faculty and excellent athletic teams.

Arlena Seneca was an experienced and well-loved teacher when she arrived from Mississippi to teach at Carver in 1945. Like most other Carver teachers who were hired by the principal, W.A. Robinson, she had an advanced degree, a M.S. in biology from Atlanta University. Arlena Seneca began teaching science with limited instructional materials, but eventually Robinson secured funding for microscopes, lab equipment and supplies which greatly enhanced Seneca's hands-on science classes. Seneca soon mentored new teachers, sharing her educational methods.

After Carver High School closed, she found a job in South Mountain High School, teaching in an integrated setting. She worked there until 1969, when she became Consultant for Human Relations in the Phoenix Union High School District. In this position, she strived to improve intercultural relations in the diverse district and to guarantee that minority students were given equal opportunities in comparison to white students.

In addition to her active professional career, Seneca belonged to numerous community organizations, including Beta Theta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service organization of primarily black college-educated women. Through this sorority, she helped organize a new program called Careers for Youth to aid students in their adjustment to integrated schools. She also organized the Community Study Group in south Phoenix to assist high school students. In addition, Seneca played leadership roles in civil rights organizations, such as the Urban League and the Arizona Council for Civic Unity. In 1967, she became the first African American woman to be named as Phoenix Woman of the Year.

The former George Washington Carver High School now functions as a museum and cultural center for African Americans in Phoenix. Visit the Carver Museum and Cultural Center at 415 E. Grant Street to learn more about the history of the school and African Americans in Phoenix.

For more information about Arlena Seneca, see Oh Yes I Can by Nelson L. Haggerson.

Photo Credits:
Arlena Seneca - Courtesy of Thomasine Miller

 

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