Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale  (b. 1926, d. 1998)
Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale Former Ragsdale residence at
1510 E. Jefferson, Phoenix
Eleanor Ragsdale became a leading figure in Phoenix's civil rights movement from the 1940s to the 1960s. By challenging segregation and working through civil rights organizations, she exerted a direct impact on social relations in the Phoenix area, and helped to integrate the city and state.

Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Women at Work / Women in Social Reform

Raised in Philadelphia and educated at what is now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, located in southeastern Pennsylvania, Eleanor Dickey moved to Phoenix in 1947 to teach in the segregated Dunbar Elementary School. While at Dunbar, she joined the Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity, which worked to desegregate schools.

In 1949 she married Lincoln Ragsdale, a local mortician and businessman, and the two became a powerful force for social change in Phoenix. By 1953, the couple had one child when Eleanor discovered she was pregnant with their second. At this time, they lived in a duplex at 1510 E. Jefferson Street in Phoenix. Needing more space, the Ragsdales decided to find housing outside the crowded, segregated black areas in central and south Phoenix. Recently licensed as a real estate agent, and quite light-skinned, Eleanor went looking for a new home. She found a house she liked at 1606 W. Thomas Road in the Encanto- Palmcroft district. Because restrictive covenants were strongly enforced, when Ragsdale found the home, she did not show it to her husband. Instead, one of her white friends pretended to buy it, and then the Ragsdales purchased the home while it was still in escrow. That meant that Lincoln Ragsdale bought the home sight unseen. The couple lived in the residence for 17 years, sometimes encountering harassment and racial bigotry but always withstanding the pressure to leave, due to their belief that challenging segregation was vitally important.

In Eleanor Ragsdale's work as a real estate agent, she dedicated herself to finding homes for African Americans outside segregated areas. She sold homes to blacks in the neighborhoods surrounding the state capitol, gradually desegregating the area. In addition, she and her family participated in civil rights marches and lobbying efforts to end segregation in Arizona. Her stalwart activism and courage made her a role model to other African Americans. Like African American women throughout the U.S., Ragsdale played a vital role in desegregating the nation's schools, public facilities, neighborhoods and places of employment.

For more information, see Matthew Whitaker's Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. The Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe contains an oral history interview with Eleanor Ragsdale.

Photo Credits:
Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale - Courtesy of the Ragsdale family


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