|Madge Johnson moved from Louisiana to Arizona in 1919. Divorced and the mother of one child, she soon married Clarence Copeland and had
two more children. When Clarence died in 1929, Copeland searched for a
way to make a living and raise her children. She secured training in
the new hairstyle of the time, the Marcelle wave. She opened a beauty
parlor in her home at 1318 E. Jefferson Street, operating it from the
1930s into the 1960s. As the only shop serving African American women
on the east side of Phoenix for many years, her parlor became a
significant meeting place for the black community. Many women
frequented her salon, and community action followed meetings at her
house and business. Eventually, Copeland had six other women working
with her. This business supported Copeland and her family for 25 years.
Madge Copeland also became active in Democratic politics, beginning in
1932. Inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she served as
precinct committeewoman in her segregated central Phoenix
neighborhood. She played a crucial role in bringing new blacks from
the South into the Democratic Party and pushed for change in the
legislative boundaries so African Americans had better representation
in the State Legislature. As a member of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People, Copeland picketed segregated
businesses, such as Woolworth's store, playing a crucial role in
desegregating public facilities. She worked with others to
integrate the only café at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in 1952.
Madge Copeland left her business when she was appointed Deputy County
Recorder in 1947, which at the time was the highest political office
any African American had held in Arizona. She served as Deputy County
Recorder until she retired in 1961. During her years of political
activities, she never considered running for office herself, believing
that women should remain behind the scenes, supporting male leaders.
She maintained this traditional view of women's roles even as her
activities led to her filling prominent public positions.
Visit the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center at 415
E. Grant Street in Phoenix to learn more about African American
history in Phoenix. For more information on Madge Copeland, see Mary
Rothschild and Pamela Hronek's Doing What the Day Brought: An Oral
History of Arizona Women.