Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 16, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Lincoln Ragsdale


  • A look at the prominent African-American entrepreneur and civil rights activist with author and ASU associate professor, Matthew Whitaker.
Guests:
  • Claudia Walters - Vice Mayor, Mesa
  • Matthew Whitaker - associate professor, History Department, Arizona State University


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon," like many valley cities, mesa is experiencing growing pains. A look at the city's challenges. A talk with the author of a book about one of phoenix's most influential entrepreneurs and civil rights activists, and research to treat a debilitating affliction to the eyes. Those stories are ahead. Good evening, and thanks for joining us for "Horizon" on this Martin Luther King Day. I'm Michael Grant. 2006 will be an exceptionally important year for the citizens of mesa. In May, voters are going to be asked to consider a 1.75 increase in the city sales tax rate. Also voters will be asked to consider implementing a property tax. Mesa residents haven't had a property tax since 1945, when the city council decided to get rid of it and use utility revenue to pay for city services. Now, however, the city is looking at a $37 million budget shortfall and has been forced to stop funding some annual events. On the other hand, the city has improved its downtown with the opening of the new Mesa Arts Center, as well as other changes. Joining us now to talk about the challenges facing the city in the coming year is its Vice Mayor, Claudia Walters. Claudia, it's nice to see you.

Claudia Walters:
Thanks. It's nice to be here.

Michael Grant:
I understand the city is working on budget permutations based upon what decision the voters finally make in may.

Claudia Walters:
We have to come up with several different combinations of things that we can do, depending on whether both propositions pass, whether it's just one or the other, and if nothing passes. So we start with baseline scenario, what if nothing passes.

Michael Grant:
This seems to an outsider, a casual observer, to have arrived on the scene suddenly. I'm sure it did not. What are the major problems that mesa is facing that's creating the situation?

Claudia Walters:
We came to the table very late in impact fees, so there had been a lot of growth in the city before impact fee were implemented. The sales tax collections, because we're dependent on sales tax, it hits us hard when they don't come in very well. For the last 20 years we've been on a 20\% trend line decline if you adjust for population and inflation. Chandler has built a mall, Gilbert is in the process of building two malls, we have as I tell residents of the community, we've dined out on our neighboring communities for a long time, but there's no such thing as a free lunch in the lunch bill is coming due.

Michael Grant:
Has that flipped in the past five or six years or so? Were communities like chandler, Gilbert, perhaps to a lesser extent Tempe, this were coming to mesa to shop, and now those freeways now move another way?

Claudia Walters:
Yeah, The freeways actually go in both directions. We thought they all -- all roads flowed to mesa. We had the car Mecca, we had the shopping Meccas, now we share those revenues with other communities. And at the same time we continue to grow as a city. We're not a stable population, but we're growing.

Michael Grant:
What about the employment base? What about some of the other economic factors that either drive revenues up or conversely, may drive revenues down?

Claudia Walters:
Well, interestingly, when you don't have a property tax, the employment base doesn't have quite the same impact, but we still have been working on growing the employment base as the freeways have developed, the properties around the freeways have begun to develop. Falcon field, Williams gateway, we're seeing development in those areas. And that's positive, but it doesn't necessarily bring positive growth to the revenues of the city.

Michael Grant:
Budget demands, are there particular areas of the budget where mesa is more heavily pressed than others, or is it across the board?

Claudia Walters:
I think it's across the board. We just feel it more because we have been running leaner than some other communities have. If we took the revenue models that an average of the revenue models of surrounding 4 communities, we'd have about $40 million more in our budget a year. So we have been running very lean for a very long time. So when you experience the kind of increased expenditures like we've had in the retirement system from the state, everyone else is experienced that as well. But it has been tremendous. I think over the last six years we've tripled the contribution to the state retirement system. We've seen health care costs that have gone up, and we have increased the amount of participation by our employees. They've had to pay more, but our burden continues to go up. If you just look at police and fire, they consume a huge portion of our budget as they should. Every community, that's got to be your top priority.

Michael Grant:
Sure. What precisely are the voters being asked to decide? What are the questions?

Claudia Walters:
The question is whether or not they will put a primary property tax on to a $30 million over for the very first time in the history of the city, since the 1940's. And the other question, and these are two separate questions, the other question is the sales tax question. We had a quality of life tax that passed several years ago. One half of that, which is in other words, one quarter of a cent, is due to expire. It was -- that money was to go for construction, and that's what's happened with it. The other quarter of a cent continues on to fund the operating expenses for all the things that were those police officers we hired, those firefighters we hired, the buildings that we built you have to operate them, and it said that right in the ballot language that we were going to maintain. Or higher and maintain those things. So when that goes away, our sales tax rate will drop down. What we're asking for is an additional authorization of half a cent. .30 of that would go to streets. We are -- our streets are falling into disrepair, we have new streets that are needed in east Mesa, we have prop 400 we have had to come up with our match of local dollars, and this would help to find that.

Michael Grant:
Mesa is an interesting blend of both the old and the new. It obviously is one of the established communities of the valley, on the other hand, it has gone through considerable growth. So it's a double killer from the standpoint of getting out to the new people, but also you've got infrastructure that I think would be aged.

Claudia Walters:
Great observation. We're hitting the aging infrastructure not just in streets, but also in our utilities and the older parts of town. So we have exactly what you're talking about. We have those new parts that need new, and we have the older parts that we have to refurbish. We can't let those neighborhoods go.

Michael Grant:
What about the downtown redevelopment? I know the mesa arts center recently opened, certainly some positive things going on in mesa.


Claudia Walters:
That's very positive. And that was that quality of life tax we talked about. That was the part -- part of the money from the quarter cent was used to build the arts center, and many other things as well. Additionally, we've had some really great private investments, the C.M. Burge building, used to be the Paul Sale building and they've done a total revitalization on that. The old valley national bank, bank one building that's now one McDonald, great investment there. That was a public-private sort of thing the city had purchased that a number of years ago. And turned it over to a private developer to refurbish it.

Michael Grant:
Claudia Walters, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate the information on mesa.

Claudia Walters:
thank you so much.

Michael Grant:
Lincoln Ragsdale was instrumental in the effort to desegregate phoenix. He was also involved in the effort to create a holiday devoted to Martin Luther King JR. Matthew witness customer has written a book about Ragsdale called "race work, the rise of civil rights in the urban west." I spoke recently with Whitaker, who's an associate professor in the history department here at A.S.U. give us kind of a broad overview of who Lincoln Ragsdale, and for that matter, his wife Eleanor were.

Matthew Whitaker:
They were two of the most distinguish and successful civil rights activists west of the Mississippi river. Certainly in the southwest and particular phoenix. Lincoln Ragsdale was a Tuskegee airman, became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the southwest and the valley through his business interests. He was -- she was trained as an educator, she was a teacher, taught at the booker t. Washington school in phoenix and became active in the civil rights moment, they became two of the more recognized civil rights activists in the valley.

Michael Grant:
I was aware he was a pilot, but I wasn't aware he was part of the Tuskegee airmen.

Matthew Whitaker:
yeah. He was trained during the war, Tuskegee was a segregated unit to train pilots to fly over Germany, and he credited his training for really giving him the confidence to be the type of leader he would have -- that he became when he came back here. Something about fighting a war for democracy overseas while still being denied freedom at home also made him more militant. Gave him the motivation and the desire to come back and want to change things at home for the positive.

Michael Grant:
Now, he and his wife-to-be arrive in phoenix, 1946.

Matthew Whitaker:
1946, they both came same year. I don't know -- Eleanor already had family here, she graduated from Cheney university in Pennsylvania, created by Quakers in the 18th century, and she had a job here, a job offer, and they offered to pay her more money than she would have gotten anywhere else, so she came here for a work opportunity. Lincoln was here before he moved to Phoenix at Luke air force base, then Luke airfield as a part of an experimental gunnery team, experimental in terms of it being integrated. And he loved the area, so he decided to stay when he was discharged.

Michael Grant:
In that respect, much the same as a whole lot of other Arizonans who showed up for training at either Luke or Williams.

Matthew Whitaker:
Exactly. And the climate was nice, he was the third generation entrepreneur before he joined the military, from a business family. And he saw a lot of opportunity out here. Phoenix had been marketed also as this desert oasis, a land of opportunity, with less race relations. So he saw it as an opportunity to escape the race relations that he had back home in Oklahoma, and an opportunity to build his business as well.

Michael Grant:
What kind of race relations, what sort of race situations did he find in 1946?

Matthew Whitaker:
I'll begin by saying this -- Phoenix had a reputation particularly among black people as being the Mississippi of the west. Phoenix was surveyed by a former confederate soldier, many people credit him as being -- he was a former confederate soldier. Phoenix was founded in large part by southern transplants, both wife and -- white and black. And so the race relations mirrored the race relations in the south with the exception of the violence. So segregation existed in phoenix from its birth. In 18 -- it was 1864 the territorial legislature for bad interracial marriages between whites, Mongolians is the term they used, Mexicans, and blacks or negros. It was omitted in 1877 to include Indians, and in 19 -- of course most of them segregated. Phoenix was very segregated. And Van Buren was the dividing line between the white community and communities of color.

Michael Grant:
All right. Late 1940's, he's here, what does he start doing in relation to discrimination?

Matthew Whitaker:
Two -- he starts building his businesses, which gives him the ability to be able to lobby for inclusion in a way that other black leaders couldn't, because he basically had his own money. But he joined the NAACP, became a leader, one of the top leaders in that organization because he was a dynamic and aggressive fellow. Very passionate fellow. He also became involved in an organization named the greater phoenix council for civic unity there. Was also greater Arizona council for civic unity. And they were all over the country. That was an interracial organization with Jewish individuals, black, Latino, Asian Americans, and they lobbied private businesses and our elected officials to open up the city. So those two organizations he really -- and the phoenix urban league as well.

Michael Grant:
interesting mix. I mean, you referred to him as a militant, yet inside to the extent possible at that point, the growing phoenix power structure, successful businessman, sort of an interesting contrast.

Matthew Whitaker:
He's a unique character, because he was very much a capitalist, believed in the possibility that capitalism can provide upward mobility, but he also believed capitalism naturally to a certain extent fed off of exploitation and because of our history of racism and white supremacy, he believed country people of color were at a disadvantage in this system, because color was the most salient thing folks could use in this sort of rubric of relations and economic system that was in part exploitation. He was an interesting fellow. He said often times that he exploited segregation to his benefit. He catered to the black community, and to a black community that couldn't frequent white establishment. So that's how he made his money, but he used that money to lobby for inclusion.

Michael Grant:
And I think an example of that was of course pre-1954, pre-brown v board of education, schools were segregated in phoenix, but there was a superior court ruling, desegregating schools that preceded brown v board of education, and Lincoln Ragsdale was involved in that.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. The key players were Daniels and Fin, and Mahoney. But Ragsdale was key figure, vice-president at that point of NAACP, also major leader in the greater Phoenix civil unity, but he lobbied the community, all races and ethnicities, to raise money for those who opposed school segregation to actually help fund the case. Helped march, produce signs, was a very aggressive and vocal person. So in that sense, he was just as much involved as anyone else in pushing. Certainly behind the scenes and using his economic clout to help fund the case.

Michael Grant:
And that case was one of the things that the United States Supreme Court certainly was aware of when they handed down the decision.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. The extent to which they were aware has been sort of clouded in history, but they know they were aware, and we know this case preceded the brown case, and ostensibly had some influence on the national decision.

Michael Grant:
third generation mortician.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. Family from Arkansas, his grandfather started the first mortician business in Oklahoma, and he of course expanded, Lincoln was amazing. I mean, he started out with the funeral business, then he had a life insurance business, then a real estate business, and then opened this complex where he provided offices for black dentists and architect, a florist, so essentially if you were a black person, you needed to be buried or go to the dentist, he got some of your money. Some sort of way. But again, he then turned, he was expected by the black community to be an advocate, making him wealthy was okay as long as he understood he needed to give back, and he did.

Michael Grant:
Now, his wife Eleanor also active in the fight for gender.

Matthew Whitaker:
Certainly. It was a tremendous leader in her own right, very elegant, very intelligent, very well spoken. She helped desegregate the palm croft area in phoenix, almost single handedly with her efforts, and was certainly very active alongside Lincoln. Trained as an educator, but certainly adapted over time to do what was necessary to help desegregate the city. She was very fair skinned, many assumed she was white or Greek or something like that. That's how she was able to help desegregate the community. She went in as a real estate agent and viewed some property, and was able to purchase the house, have a friend purchase the house when it was still in escrow and have the friend transfer the title to her. She was able to look at it because they assumed she was white. It wasn't until Lincoln and Eleanor moved in that the neighborhood actually figured out they were black, because she said once my black husband and black children moved in with me they would know we were black.

Michael Grant:
Did they travel?

Matthew Whitaker: Oh, extensively. He was a pilot, so he had his own plane, he trained all his kids to fly. Often they flew through their own means, they met with Charles decision, Adam Clayton Powell, a number of elected officials all over the country, to help lobby and to raise funds for the movement here. A lot of folks don't know that. When they were in phoenix, they would travel all over the country enlisting support. They knew what was going on in fees, they didn't really come and lend their names to the effort, but they were able to exact some support from them.

Michael Grant:
1964, he was instrumental in bringing Martin Luther King to the valley.

Matthew Whitaker:
He was part of a group that -- I believe it was called the phoenix forum, Herbert Eli was in that organization, they had been working several years trying to bring King to town. They finally succeeded. King was locked up in jail on trumped up charges several times before, and they couldn't get Herement but he came in 1964, gave a rousing speech on Arizona state university's campus and went into the city to some of the black churches and Ragsdale was his escort. He stayed with the Ragsdale in their home after his speech and they were able to chat, and they credit that interaction with King as being something that really reignited their motivation to continue. They said King was one of those folks you meet and you'll never forget meet meeting. He had an aura of confidence and peace about him.

Michael Grant:
Never met him, but you got the impression that impression from watching him.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. Emily Ragsdale said her father Lincoln used to listen to tapes of Martin Luther King's speeches alone by himself, just to be invigorate and motivate and to learn from how King spoke. And then to sort of recharge himself so he could go back out onto the battlefield, so to speak.

Michael Grant:
Having done the book, and you always hesitate to draw conclusions too broadly, buts does it overstate it to say that he was key in this movement, mid 19-40's to mid-1960's and beyond?

Matthew Whitaker:
You mean just in this region, or beyond?

Michael Grant:
In both.

Matthew Whitaker:
I think so. I think so. And several other people were as well. I think it takes a cadre of people, but certainly he was. Behind the scenes, I can't tell you how many people in this city particularly black people, that he helped fund or support. The book would have been longer if I had gone into all of that. But he was. And local people, whether it's a Ragsdale here, or a Robert F. Williams in north Carolina, they're the key to the movement, and King had said a number of times local leaders really are the ones that really get the stuff going on the ground, the grass-roots type of stuff. So I don't think it's overstating it. I think Lincoln Ragsdale, George Brooks in this city, reverend George Brooks said that folks in Phoenix and Arizona owe Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale a debt of gratitude. We'll never know what they have done.

Michael Grant:
Dr. Matthew Whitaker, terrific book, thanks for joining us, talking about it.

Matthew Whitaker:
Thank you. It's always a pleasure. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration, or A.M.D. It is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans. There is no cure, but Pam White says a university of Arizona scientist is looking for one.

Cele Peterson:
If my own child or grandchild comes in, unless they get up close enough to me, I could not tell you who they are. That's maddening.

Announcer:
About five years ago, Tucson business and community leader Cele Peterson was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration or A.M.D. The disease damages the middle part of the retina, which is responsible for central vision and the ability to see detail.

Cele Peterson:
I cannot read a telephone number, no matter how big it may be blown up. I still cannot make the numbers out.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It goes from just distorted vision to a complete loss of vision, and it works its way out. And so you many have? Vision in the periphery, but the center of your visual field has disappeared. And so this is what the person with A.M.D. is experiencing.

Announcer:
Dr. Alan Marmorstein is a researcher. Recently a genetic link to A.M.D. was discovered, and he says finding that gene is just the beginning, not the end. Although it does tell scientists where to look.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It gives us a clue, and somehow or other this gene appears to be involved in that last stage, which is where you lose vision. So, yeah, it is a very big finding.

Announcer:
The race for a cure for A.M.D. is crucial. Today 15 million Americans have the disease, and that number is expected to double as baby boomers age.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
The state of Arizona today, there's some 30,000-plus individuals who have significant vision loss due to A.M.D.

Announcer:
There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry. 90\% of people with A.M.D. have the dry form, which is much more difficult to treat.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
We've sectioned it so you can see what this feature, and these are the deposits, these are -- we've sectioned it so you can see what that looks like. You see this bump that has occurred under the cells which are called the pigment epithelium, and these are the photo receptors. So this layer of cells, the photoreceptors are light sensitive, and where the bump is, the number of photoreceptors and the thickness of that layer of cells is diminished. And so this person, when they see, because it's been elevated over the background, their vision is going to be out of focus.

Announcer:
To find answers, a few years ago the u of a department of ophthalmology and vision science began the southwest A.M.D. research program, and its goal, to eliminate A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
If you can prevent the disease from occurring, you over attain your vision and you'll not have to undergo the more severe treatments that you would otherwise have to.

Announcer:
UofA researchers are look for better ways to diagnose and prevent the disease. The doctor says a good example is heart disease. To treat it, statins are used to lower cholesterol, and thereby offset a heart attack.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
What we're working on is a test that would look into your eye and pick up the earliest stages of this long before vision is lost, and give us a clue as to whether you're at risk for developing A.M.D. having that in hand, and understanding the biological pathways that gives us macular degeneration, we'd like to develop a drug that can be given to those people who are at risk to reduce their risk, just like the statins are given to people to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Announcer:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing A.M.D. Until a cure is found, he recommends a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. A healthy lifestyle is also essential.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But the most important thing probably is quit smoking if you do, and if you don't smoke, don't start. Because the biggest environmental risk factor to date for A.M.D. is smoking. It gives a three to fourfold increase risk of A.M.D. it's the only confirmed environmental factor for A.M.D.

Announcer:
A special supplement of vitamin c and zinc is sometimes prescribed to slow the progression of the disease in those with dry A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But that is, although somewhat effective, not super effective. And it will not reverse the loss of vision. It won't prevent you from getting A.M.D., and that's something that's important. There's a lot of people I know who have gone to start taking these supplements to prevent A.M.D., and we don't have any evidence that prevents A.M.D.

Announcer:
The doctor says a cure for A.M.D. is at least a decade away, but researchers are making progress.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
I believe in the next couple of years the gene that's we know about will have let us to that pathways, and we'll already be identifying compounds that may be able to intervene.

Cele Peterson:
There will be cures, of course those you who are much younger than I have a much bolter chance, but the point of it is, listen. Listen, observe, and help. And everybody can help by recognizing that this happens to be one of those I call it a challenge.

Michael Grant:
To see a transcript of this program or of any other segment of "Horizon" or if you want to find out about upcoming topics, please visit the website, you'll find that at www.azpbs.org. Thank you very much for joining us on this Martin Luther King holiday. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

Macular Degeneration


  • Research continues at the University of Arizona for a cure of the eye disease that afflicts so many people.
Guests:
  • Claudia Walters - Vice Mayor, Mesa
  • Matthew Whitaker - associate professor, History Department, Arizona State University


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon," like many valley cities, mesa is experiencing growing pains. A look at the city's challenges. A talk with the author of a book about one of phoenix's most influential entrepreneurs and civil rights activists, and research to treat a debilitating affliction to the eyes. Those stories are ahead. Good evening, and thanks for joining us for "Horizon" on this Martin Luther King Day. I'm Michael Grant. 2006 will be an exceptionally important year for the citizens of mesa. In May, voters are going to be asked to consider a 1.75 increase in the city sales tax rate. Also voters will be asked to consider implementing a property tax. Mesa residents haven't had a property tax since 1945, when the city council decided to get rid of it and use utility revenue to pay for city services. Now, however, the city is looking at a $37 million budget shortfall and has been forced to stop funding some annual events. On the other hand, the city has improved its downtown with the opening of the new Mesa Arts Center, as well as other changes. Joining us now to talk about the challenges facing the city in the coming year is its Vice Mayor, Claudia Walters. Claudia, it's nice to see you.

Claudia Walters:
Thanks. It's nice to be here.

Michael Grant:
I understand the city is working on budget permutations based upon what decision the voters finally make in may.

Claudia Walters:
We have to come up with several different combinations of things that we can do, depending on whether both propositions pass, whether it's just one or the other, and if nothing passes. So we start with baseline scenario, what if nothing passes.

Michael Grant:
This seems to an outsider, a casual observer, to have arrived on the scene suddenly. I'm sure it did not. What are the major problems that mesa is facing that's creating the situation?

Claudia Walters:
We came to the table very late in impact fees, so there had been a lot of growth in the city before impact fee were implemented. The sales tax collections, because we're dependent on sales tax, it hits us hard when they don't come in very well. For the last 20 years we've been on a 20\% trend line decline if you adjust for population and inflation. Chandler has built a mall, Gilbert is in the process of building two malls, we have as I tell residents of the community, we've dined out on our neighboring communities for a long time, but there's no such thing as a free lunch in the lunch bill is coming due.

Michael Grant:
Has that flipped in the past five or six years or so? Were communities like chandler, Gilbert, perhaps to a lesser extent Tempe, this were coming to mesa to shop, and now those freeways now move another way?

Claudia Walters:
Yeah, The freeways actually go in both directions. We thought they all -- all roads flowed to mesa. We had the car Mecca, we had the shopping Meccas, now we share those revenues with other communities. And at the same time we continue to grow as a city. We're not a stable population, but we're growing.

Michael Grant:
What about the employment base? What about some of the other economic factors that either drive revenues up or conversely, may drive revenues down?

Claudia Walters:
Well, interestingly, when you don't have a property tax, the employment base doesn't have quite the same impact, but we still have been working on growing the employment base as the freeways have developed, the properties around the freeways have begun to develop. Falcon field, Williams gateway, we're seeing development in those areas. And that's positive, but it doesn't necessarily bring positive growth to the revenues of the city.

Michael Grant:
Budget demands, are there particular areas of the budget where mesa is more heavily pressed than others, or is it across the board?

Claudia Walters:
I think it's across the board. We just feel it more because we have been running leaner than some other communities have. If we took the revenue models that an average of the revenue models of surrounding 4 communities, we'd have about $40 million more in our budget a year. So we have been running very lean for a very long time. So when you experience the kind of increased expenditures like we've had in the retirement system from the state, everyone else is experienced that as well. But it has been tremendous. I think over the last six years we've tripled the contribution to the state retirement system. We've seen health care costs that have gone up, and we have increased the amount of participation by our employees. They've had to pay more, but our burden continues to go up. If you just look at police and fire, they consume a huge portion of our budget as they should. Every community, that's got to be your top priority.

Michael Grant:
Sure. What precisely are the voters being asked to decide? What are the questions?

Claudia Walters:
The question is whether or not they will put a primary property tax on to a $30 million over for the very first time in the history of the city, since the 1940's. And the other question, and these are two separate questions, the other question is the sales tax question. We had a quality of life tax that passed several years ago. One half of that, which is in other words, one quarter of a cent, is due to expire. It was -- that money was to go for construction, and that's what's happened with it. The other quarter of a cent continues on to fund the operating expenses for all the things that were those police officers we hired, those firefighters we hired, the buildings that we built you have to operate them, and it said that right in the ballot language that we were going to maintain. Or higher and maintain those things. So when that goes away, our sales tax rate will drop down. What we're asking for is an additional authorization of half a cent. .30 of that would go to streets. We are -- our streets are falling into disrepair, we have new streets that are needed in east Mesa, we have prop 400 we have had to come up with our match of local dollars, and this would help to find that.

Michael Grant:
Mesa is an interesting blend of both the old and the new. It obviously is one of the established communities of the valley, on the other hand, it has gone through considerable growth. So it's a double killer from the standpoint of getting out to the new people, but also you've got infrastructure that I think would be aged.

Claudia Walters:
Great observation. We're hitting the aging infrastructure not just in streets, but also in our utilities and the older parts of town. So we have exactly what you're talking about. We have those new parts that need new, and we have the older parts that we have to refurbish. We can't let those neighborhoods go.

Michael Grant:
What about the downtown redevelopment? I know the mesa arts center recently opened, certainly some positive things going on in mesa.


Claudia Walters:
That's very positive. And that was that quality of life tax we talked about. That was the part -- part of the money from the quarter cent was used to build the arts center, and many other things as well. Additionally, we've had some really great private investments, the C.M. Burge building, used to be the Paul Sale building and they've done a total revitalization on that. The old valley national bank, bank one building that's now one McDonald, great investment there. That was a public-private sort of thing the city had purchased that a number of years ago. And turned it over to a private developer to refurbish it.

Michael Grant:
Claudia Walters, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate the information on mesa.

Claudia Walters:
thank you so much.

Michael Grant:
Lincoln Ragsdale was instrumental in the effort to desegregate phoenix. He was also involved in the effort to create a holiday devoted to Martin Luther King JR. Matthew witness customer has written a book about Ragsdale called "race work, the rise of civil rights in the urban west." I spoke recently with Whitaker, who's an associate professor in the history department here at A.S.U. give us kind of a broad overview of who Lincoln Ragsdale, and for that matter, his wife Eleanor were.

Matthew Whitaker:
They were two of the most distinguish and successful civil rights activists west of the Mississippi river. Certainly in the southwest and particular phoenix. Lincoln Ragsdale was a Tuskegee airman, became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the southwest and the valley through his business interests. He was -- she was trained as an educator, she was a teacher, taught at the booker t. Washington school in phoenix and became active in the civil rights moment, they became two of the more recognized civil rights activists in the valley.

Michael Grant:
I was aware he was a pilot, but I wasn't aware he was part of the Tuskegee airmen.

Matthew Whitaker:
yeah. He was trained during the war, Tuskegee was a segregated unit to train pilots to fly over Germany, and he credited his training for really giving him the confidence to be the type of leader he would have -- that he became when he came back here. Something about fighting a war for democracy overseas while still being denied freedom at home also made him more militant. Gave him the motivation and the desire to come back and want to change things at home for the positive.

Michael Grant:
Now, he and his wife-to-be arrive in phoenix, 1946.

Matthew Whitaker:
1946, they both came same year. I don't know -- Eleanor already had family here, she graduated from Cheney university in Pennsylvania, created by Quakers in the 18th century, and she had a job here, a job offer, and they offered to pay her more money than she would have gotten anywhere else, so she came here for a work opportunity. Lincoln was here before he moved to Phoenix at Luke air force base, then Luke airfield as a part of an experimental gunnery team, experimental in terms of it being integrated. And he loved the area, so he decided to stay when he was discharged.

Michael Grant:
In that respect, much the same as a whole lot of other Arizonans who showed up for training at either Luke or Williams.

Matthew Whitaker:
Exactly. And the climate was nice, he was the third generation entrepreneur before he joined the military, from a business family. And he saw a lot of opportunity out here. Phoenix had been marketed also as this desert oasis, a land of opportunity, with less race relations. So he saw it as an opportunity to escape the race relations that he had back home in Oklahoma, and an opportunity to build his business as well.

Michael Grant:
What kind of race relations, what sort of race situations did he find in 1946?

Matthew Whitaker:
I'll begin by saying this -- Phoenix had a reputation particularly among black people as being the Mississippi of the west. Phoenix was surveyed by a former confederate soldier, many people credit him as being -- he was a former confederate soldier. Phoenix was founded in large part by southern transplants, both wife and -- white and black. And so the race relations mirrored the race relations in the south with the exception of the violence. So segregation existed in phoenix from its birth. In 18 -- it was 1864 the territorial legislature for bad interracial marriages between whites, Mongolians is the term they used, Mexicans, and blacks or negros. It was omitted in 1877 to include Indians, and in 19 -- of course most of them segregated. Phoenix was very segregated. And Van Buren was the dividing line between the white community and communities of color.

Michael Grant:
All right. Late 1940's, he's here, what does he start doing in relation to discrimination?

Matthew Whitaker:
Two -- he starts building his businesses, which gives him the ability to be able to lobby for inclusion in a way that other black leaders couldn't, because he basically had his own money. But he joined the NAACP, became a leader, one of the top leaders in that organization because he was a dynamic and aggressive fellow. Very passionate fellow. He also became involved in an organization named the greater phoenix council for civic unity there. Was also greater Arizona council for civic unity. And they were all over the country. That was an interracial organization with Jewish individuals, black, Latino, Asian Americans, and they lobbied private businesses and our elected officials to open up the city. So those two organizations he really -- and the phoenix urban league as well.

Michael Grant:
interesting mix. I mean, you referred to him as a militant, yet inside to the extent possible at that point, the growing phoenix power structure, successful businessman, sort of an interesting contrast.

Matthew Whitaker:
He's a unique character, because he was very much a capitalist, believed in the possibility that capitalism can provide upward mobility, but he also believed capitalism naturally to a certain extent fed off of exploitation and because of our history of racism and white supremacy, he believed country people of color were at a disadvantage in this system, because color was the most salient thing folks could use in this sort of rubric of relations and economic system that was in part exploitation. He was an interesting fellow. He said often times that he exploited segregation to his benefit. He catered to the black community, and to a black community that couldn't frequent white establishment. So that's how he made his money, but he used that money to lobby for inclusion.

Michael Grant:
And I think an example of that was of course pre-1954, pre-brown v board of education, schools were segregated in phoenix, but there was a superior court ruling, desegregating schools that preceded brown v board of education, and Lincoln Ragsdale was involved in that.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. The key players were Daniels and Fin, and Mahoney. But Ragsdale was key figure, vice-president at that point of NAACP, also major leader in the greater Phoenix civil unity, but he lobbied the community, all races and ethnicities, to raise money for those who opposed school segregation to actually help fund the case. Helped march, produce signs, was a very aggressive and vocal person. So in that sense, he was just as much involved as anyone else in pushing. Certainly behind the scenes and using his economic clout to help fund the case.

Michael Grant:
And that case was one of the things that the United States Supreme Court certainly was aware of when they handed down the decision.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. The extent to which they were aware has been sort of clouded in history, but they know they were aware, and we know this case preceded the brown case, and ostensibly had some influence on the national decision.

Michael Grant:
third generation mortician.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. Family from Arkansas, his grandfather started the first mortician business in Oklahoma, and he of course expanded, Lincoln was amazing. I mean, he started out with the funeral business, then he had a life insurance business, then a real estate business, and then opened this complex where he provided offices for black dentists and architect, a florist, so essentially if you were a black person, you needed to be buried or go to the dentist, he got some of your money. Some sort of way. But again, he then turned, he was expected by the black community to be an advocate, making him wealthy was okay as long as he understood he needed to give back, and he did.

Michael Grant:
Now, his wife Eleanor also active in the fight for gender.

Matthew Whitaker:
Certainly. It was a tremendous leader in her own right, very elegant, very intelligent, very well spoken. She helped desegregate the palm croft area in phoenix, almost single handedly with her efforts, and was certainly very active alongside Lincoln. Trained as an educator, but certainly adapted over time to do what was necessary to help desegregate the city. She was very fair skinned, many assumed she was white or Greek or something like that. That's how she was able to help desegregate the community. She went in as a real estate agent and viewed some property, and was able to purchase the house, have a friend purchase the house when it was still in escrow and have the friend transfer the title to her. She was able to look at it because they assumed she was white. It wasn't until Lincoln and Eleanor moved in that the neighborhood actually figured out they were black, because she said once my black husband and black children moved in with me they would know we were black.

Michael Grant:
Did they travel?

Matthew Whitaker: Oh, extensively. He was a pilot, so he had his own plane, he trained all his kids to fly. Often they flew through their own means, they met with Charles decision, Adam Clayton Powell, a number of elected officials all over the country, to help lobby and to raise funds for the movement here. A lot of folks don't know that. When they were in phoenix, they would travel all over the country enlisting support. They knew what was going on in fees, they didn't really come and lend their names to the effort, but they were able to exact some support from them.

Michael Grant:
1964, he was instrumental in bringing Martin Luther King to the valley.

Matthew Whitaker:
He was part of a group that -- I believe it was called the phoenix forum, Herbert Eli was in that organization, they had been working several years trying to bring King to town. They finally succeeded. King was locked up in jail on trumped up charges several times before, and they couldn't get Herement but he came in 1964, gave a rousing speech on Arizona state university's campus and went into the city to some of the black churches and Ragsdale was his escort. He stayed with the Ragsdale in their home after his speech and they were able to chat, and they credit that interaction with King as being something that really reignited their motivation to continue. They said King was one of those folks you meet and you'll never forget meet meeting. He had an aura of confidence and peace about him.

Michael Grant:
Never met him, but you got the impression that impression from watching him.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. Emily Ragsdale said her father Lincoln used to listen to tapes of Martin Luther King's speeches alone by himself, just to be invigorate and motivate and to learn from how King spoke. And then to sort of recharge himself so he could go back out onto the battlefield, so to speak.

Michael Grant:
Having done the book, and you always hesitate to draw conclusions too broadly, buts does it overstate it to say that he was key in this movement, mid 19-40's to mid-1960's and beyond?

Matthew Whitaker:
You mean just in this region, or beyond?

Michael Grant:
In both.

Matthew Whitaker:
I think so. I think so. And several other people were as well. I think it takes a cadre of people, but certainly he was. Behind the scenes, I can't tell you how many people in this city particularly black people, that he helped fund or support. The book would have been longer if I had gone into all of that. But he was. And local people, whether it's a Ragsdale here, or a Robert F. Williams in north Carolina, they're the key to the movement, and King had said a number of times local leaders really are the ones that really get the stuff going on the ground, the grass-roots type of stuff. So I don't think it's overstating it. I think Lincoln Ragsdale, George Brooks in this city, reverend George Brooks said that folks in Phoenix and Arizona owe Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale a debt of gratitude. We'll never know what they have done.

Michael Grant:
Dr. Matthew Whitaker, terrific book, thanks for joining us, talking about it.

Matthew Whitaker:
Thank you. It's always a pleasure. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration, or A.M.D. It is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans. There is no cure, but Pam White says a university of Arizona scientist is looking for one.

Cele Peterson:
If my own child or grandchild comes in, unless they get up close enough to me, I could not tell you who they are. That's maddening.

Announcer:
About five years ago, Tucson business and community leader Cele Peterson was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration or A.M.D. The disease damages the middle part of the retina, which is responsible for central vision and the ability to see detail.

Cele Peterson:
I cannot read a telephone number, no matter how big it may be blown up. I still cannot make the numbers out.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It goes from just distorted vision to a complete loss of vision, and it works its way out. And so you many have? Vision in the periphery, but the center of your visual field has disappeared. And so this is what the person with A.M.D. is experiencing.

Announcer:
Dr. Alan Marmorstein is a researcher. Recently a genetic link to A.M.D. was discovered, and he says finding that gene is just the beginning, not the end. Although it does tell scientists where to look.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It gives us a clue, and somehow or other this gene appears to be involved in that last stage, which is where you lose vision. So, yeah, it is a very big finding.

Announcer:
The race for a cure for A.M.D. is crucial. Today 15 million Americans have the disease, and that number is expected to double as baby boomers age.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
The state of Arizona today, there's some 30,000-plus individuals who have significant vision loss due to A.M.D.

Announcer:
There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry. 90\% of people with A.M.D. have the dry form, which is much more difficult to treat.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
We've sectioned it so you can see what this feature, and these are the deposits, these are -- we've sectioned it so you can see what that looks like. You see this bump that has occurred under the cells which are called the pigment epithelium, and these are the photo receptors. So this layer of cells, the photoreceptors are light sensitive, and where the bump is, the number of photoreceptors and the thickness of that layer of cells is diminished. And so this person, when they see, because it's been elevated over the background, their vision is going to be out of focus.

Announcer:
To find answers, a few years ago the u of a department of ophthalmology and vision science began the southwest A.M.D. research program, and its goal, to eliminate A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
If you can prevent the disease from occurring, you over attain your vision and you'll not have to undergo the more severe treatments that you would otherwise have to.

Announcer:
UofA researchers are look for better ways to diagnose and prevent the disease. The doctor says a good example is heart disease. To treat it, statins are used to lower cholesterol, and thereby offset a heart attack.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
What we're working on is a test that would look into your eye and pick up the earliest stages of this long before vision is lost, and give us a clue as to whether you're at risk for developing A.M.D. having that in hand, and understanding the biological pathways that gives us macular degeneration, we'd like to develop a drug that can be given to those people who are at risk to reduce their risk, just like the statins are given to people to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Announcer:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing A.M.D. Until a cure is found, he recommends a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. A healthy lifestyle is also essential.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But the most important thing probably is quit smoking if you do, and if you don't smoke, don't start. Because the biggest environmental risk factor to date for A.M.D. is smoking. It gives a three to fourfold increase risk of A.M.D. it's the only confirmed environmental factor for A.M.D.

Announcer:
A special supplement of vitamin c and zinc is sometimes prescribed to slow the progression of the disease in those with dry A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But that is, although somewhat effective, not super effective. And it will not reverse the loss of vision. It won't prevent you from getting A.M.D., and that's something that's important. There's a lot of people I know who have gone to start taking these supplements to prevent A.M.D., and we don't have any evidence that prevents A.M.D.

Announcer:
The doctor says a cure for A.M.D. is at least a decade away, but researchers are making progress.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
I believe in the next couple of years the gene that's we know about will have let us to that pathways, and we'll already be identifying compounds that may be able to intervene.

Cele Peterson:
There will be cures, of course those you who are much younger than I have a much bolter chance, but the point of it is, listen. Listen, observe, and help. And everybody can help by recognizing that this happens to be one of those I call it a challenge.

Michael Grant:
To see a transcript of this program or of any other segment of "Horizon" or if you want to find out about upcoming topics, please visit the website, you'll find that at www.azpbs.org. Thank you very much for joining us on this Martin Luther King holiday. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

Mesa Troubles


  • Although downtown Mesa is reflecting the optimism inherent in the city, a looming budget shortfall of 37 million dollars this year means in a May election voters will consider the first property tax since 1945. Mesa Vice Mayor Claudia Walters discusses the issues.
Guests:
  • Claudia Walters - Vice Mayor, Mesa
  • Matthew Whitaker - associate professor, History Department, Arizona State University


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon," like many valley cities, mesa is experiencing growing pains. A look at the city's challenges. A talk with the author of a book about one of phoenix's most influential entrepreneurs and civil rights activists, and research to treat a debilitating affliction to the eyes. Those stories are ahead. Good evening, and thanks for joining us for "Horizon" on this Martin Luther King Day. I'm Michael Grant. 2006 will be an exceptionally important year for the citizens of mesa. In May, voters are going to be asked to consider a 1.75 increase in the city sales tax rate. Also voters will be asked to consider implementing a property tax. Mesa residents haven't had a property tax since 1945, when the city council decided to get rid of it and use utility revenue to pay for city services. Now, however, the city is looking at a $37 million budget shortfall and has been forced to stop funding some annual events. On the other hand, the city has improved its downtown with the opening of the new Mesa Arts Center, as well as other changes. Joining us now to talk about the challenges facing the city in the coming year is its Vice Mayor, Claudia Walters. Claudia, it's nice to see you.

Claudia Walters:
Thanks. It's nice to be here.

Michael Grant:
I understand the city is working on budget permutations based upon what decision the voters finally make in may.

Claudia Walters:
We have to come up with several different combinations of things that we can do, depending on whether both propositions pass, whether it's just one or the other, and if nothing passes. So we start with baseline scenario, what if nothing passes.

Michael Grant:
This seems to an outsider, a casual observer, to have arrived on the scene suddenly. I'm sure it did not. What are the major problems that mesa is facing that's creating the situation?

Claudia Walters:
We came to the table very late in impact fees, so there had been a lot of growth in the city before impact fee were implemented. The sales tax collections, because we're dependent on sales tax, it hits us hard when they don't come in very well. For the last 20 years we've been on a 20\% trend line decline if you adjust for population and inflation. Chandler has built a mall, Gilbert is in the process of building two malls, we have as I tell residents of the community, we've dined out on our neighboring communities for a long time, but there's no such thing as a free lunch in the lunch bill is coming due.

Michael Grant:
Has that flipped in the past five or six years or so? Were communities like chandler, Gilbert, perhaps to a lesser extent Tempe, this were coming to mesa to shop, and now those freeways now move another way?

Claudia Walters:
Yeah, The freeways actually go in both directions. We thought they all -- all roads flowed to mesa. We had the car Mecca, we had the shopping Meccas, now we share those revenues with other communities. And at the same time we continue to grow as a city. We're not a stable population, but we're growing.

Michael Grant:
What about the employment base? What about some of the other economic factors that either drive revenues up or conversely, may drive revenues down?

Claudia Walters:
Well, interestingly, when you don't have a property tax, the employment base doesn't have quite the same impact, but we still have been working on growing the employment base as the freeways have developed, the properties around the freeways have begun to develop. Falcon field, Williams gateway, we're seeing development in those areas. And that's positive, but it doesn't necessarily bring positive growth to the revenues of the city.

Michael Grant:
Budget demands, are there particular areas of the budget where mesa is more heavily pressed than others, or is it across the board?

Claudia Walters:
I think it's across the board. We just feel it more because we have been running leaner than some other communities have. If we took the revenue models that an average of the revenue models of surrounding 4 communities, we'd have about $40 million more in our budget a year. So we have been running very lean for a very long time. So when you experience the kind of increased expenditures like we've had in the retirement system from the state, everyone else is experienced that as well. But it has been tremendous. I think over the last six years we've tripled the contribution to the state retirement system. We've seen health care costs that have gone up, and we have increased the amount of participation by our employees. They've had to pay more, but our burden continues to go up. If you just look at police and fire, they consume a huge portion of our budget as they should. Every community, that's got to be your top priority.

Michael Grant:
Sure. What precisely are the voters being asked to decide? What are the questions?

Claudia Walters:
The question is whether or not they will put a primary property tax on to a $30 million over for the very first time in the history of the city, since the 1940's. And the other question, and these are two separate questions, the other question is the sales tax question. We had a quality of life tax that passed several years ago. One half of that, which is in other words, one quarter of a cent, is due to expire. It was -- that money was to go for construction, and that's what's happened with it. The other quarter of a cent continues on to fund the operating expenses for all the things that were those police officers we hired, those firefighters we hired, the buildings that we built you have to operate them, and it said that right in the ballot language that we were going to maintain. Or higher and maintain those things. So when that goes away, our sales tax rate will drop down. What we're asking for is an additional authorization of half a cent. .30 of that would go to streets. We are -- our streets are falling into disrepair, we have new streets that are needed in east Mesa, we have prop 400 we have had to come up with our match of local dollars, and this would help to find that.

Michael Grant:
Mesa is an interesting blend of both the old and the new. It obviously is one of the established communities of the valley, on the other hand, it has gone through considerable growth. So it's a double killer from the standpoint of getting out to the new people, but also you've got infrastructure that I think would be aged.

Claudia Walters:
Great observation. We're hitting the aging infrastructure not just in streets, but also in our utilities and the older parts of town. So we have exactly what you're talking about. We have those new parts that need new, and we have the older parts that we have to refurbish. We can't let those neighborhoods go.

Michael Grant:
What about the downtown redevelopment? I know the mesa arts center recently opened, certainly some positive things going on in mesa.


Claudia Walters:
That's very positive. And that was that quality of life tax we talked about. That was the part -- part of the money from the quarter cent was used to build the arts center, and many other things as well. Additionally, we've had some really great private investments, the C.M. Burge building, used to be the Paul Sale building and they've done a total revitalization on that. The old valley national bank, bank one building that's now one McDonald, great investment there. That was a public-private sort of thing the city had purchased that a number of years ago. And turned it over to a private developer to refurbish it.

Michael Grant:
Claudia Walters, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate the information on mesa.

Claudia Walters:
thank you so much.

Michael Grant:
Lincoln Ragsdale was instrumental in the effort to desegregate phoenix. He was also involved in the effort to create a holiday devoted to Martin Luther King JR. Matthew witness customer has written a book about Ragsdale called "race work, the rise of civil rights in the urban west." I spoke recently with Whitaker, who's an associate professor in the history department here at A.S.U. give us kind of a broad overview of who Lincoln Ragsdale, and for that matter, his wife Eleanor were.

Matthew Whitaker:
They were two of the most distinguish and successful civil rights activists west of the Mississippi river. Certainly in the southwest and particular phoenix. Lincoln Ragsdale was a Tuskegee airman, became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the southwest and the valley through his business interests. He was -- she was trained as an educator, she was a teacher, taught at the booker t. Washington school in phoenix and became active in the civil rights moment, they became two of the more recognized civil rights activists in the valley.

Michael Grant:
I was aware he was a pilot, but I wasn't aware he was part of the Tuskegee airmen.

Matthew Whitaker:
yeah. He was trained during the war, Tuskegee was a segregated unit to train pilots to fly over Germany, and he credited his training for really giving him the confidence to be the type of leader he would have -- that he became when he came back here. Something about fighting a war for democracy overseas while still being denied freedom at home also made him more militant. Gave him the motivation and the desire to come back and want to change things at home for the positive.

Michael Grant:
Now, he and his wife-to-be arrive in phoenix, 1946.

Matthew Whitaker:
1946, they both came same year. I don't know -- Eleanor already had family here, she graduated from Cheney university in Pennsylvania, created by Quakers in the 18th century, and she had a job here, a job offer, and they offered to pay her more money than she would have gotten anywhere else, so she came here for a work opportunity. Lincoln was here before he moved to Phoenix at Luke air force base, then Luke airfield as a part of an experimental gunnery team, experimental in terms of it being integrated. And he loved the area, so he decided to stay when he was discharged.

Michael Grant:
In that respect, much the same as a whole lot of other Arizonans who showed up for training at either Luke or Williams.

Matthew Whitaker:
Exactly. And the climate was nice, he was the third generation entrepreneur before he joined the military, from a business family. And he saw a lot of opportunity out here. Phoenix had been marketed also as this desert oasis, a land of opportunity, with less race relations. So he saw it as an opportunity to escape the race relations that he had back home in Oklahoma, and an opportunity to build his business as well.

Michael Grant:
What kind of race relations, what sort of race situations did he find in 1946?

Matthew Whitaker:
I'll begin by saying this -- Phoenix had a reputation particularly among black people as being the Mississippi of the west. Phoenix was surveyed by a former confederate soldier, many people credit him as being -- he was a former confederate soldier. Phoenix was founded in large part by southern transplants, both wife and -- white and black. And so the race relations mirrored the race relations in the south with the exception of the violence. So segregation existed in phoenix from its birth. In 18 -- it was 1864 the territorial legislature for bad interracial marriages between whites, Mongolians is the term they used, Mexicans, and blacks or negros. It was omitted in 1877 to include Indians, and in 19 -- of course most of them segregated. Phoenix was very segregated. And Van Buren was the dividing line between the white community and communities of color.

Michael Grant:
All right. Late 1940's, he's here, what does he start doing in relation to discrimination?

Matthew Whitaker:
Two -- he starts building his businesses, which gives him the ability to be able to lobby for inclusion in a way that other black leaders couldn't, because he basically had his own money. But he joined the NAACP, became a leader, one of the top leaders in that organization because he was a dynamic and aggressive fellow. Very passionate fellow. He also became involved in an organization named the greater phoenix council for civic unity there. Was also greater Arizona council for civic unity. And they were all over the country. That was an interracial organization with Jewish individuals, black, Latino, Asian Americans, and they lobbied private businesses and our elected officials to open up the city. So those two organizations he really -- and the phoenix urban league as well.

Michael Grant:
interesting mix. I mean, you referred to him as a militant, yet inside to the extent possible at that point, the growing phoenix power structure, successful businessman, sort of an interesting contrast.

Matthew Whitaker:
He's a unique character, because he was very much a capitalist, believed in the possibility that capitalism can provide upward mobility, but he also believed capitalism naturally to a certain extent fed off of exploitation and because of our history of racism and white supremacy, he believed country people of color were at a disadvantage in this system, because color was the most salient thing folks could use in this sort of rubric of relations and economic system that was in part exploitation. He was an interesting fellow. He said often times that he exploited segregation to his benefit. He catered to the black community, and to a black community that couldn't frequent white establishment. So that's how he made his money, but he used that money to lobby for inclusion.

Michael Grant:
And I think an example of that was of course pre-1954, pre-brown v board of education, schools were segregated in phoenix, but there was a superior court ruling, desegregating schools that preceded brown v board of education, and Lincoln Ragsdale was involved in that.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. The key players were Daniels and Fin, and Mahoney. But Ragsdale was key figure, vice-president at that point of NAACP, also major leader in the greater Phoenix civil unity, but he lobbied the community, all races and ethnicities, to raise money for those who opposed school segregation to actually help fund the case. Helped march, produce signs, was a very aggressive and vocal person. So in that sense, he was just as much involved as anyone else in pushing. Certainly behind the scenes and using his economic clout to help fund the case.

Michael Grant:
And that case was one of the things that the United States Supreme Court certainly was aware of when they handed down the decision.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. The extent to which they were aware has been sort of clouded in history, but they know they were aware, and we know this case preceded the brown case, and ostensibly had some influence on the national decision.

Michael Grant:
third generation mortician.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yes. Family from Arkansas, his grandfather started the first mortician business in Oklahoma, and he of course expanded, Lincoln was amazing. I mean, he started out with the funeral business, then he had a life insurance business, then a real estate business, and then opened this complex where he provided offices for black dentists and architect, a florist, so essentially if you were a black person, you needed to be buried or go to the dentist, he got some of your money. Some sort of way. But again, he then turned, he was expected by the black community to be an advocate, making him wealthy was okay as long as he understood he needed to give back, and he did.

Michael Grant:
Now, his wife Eleanor also active in the fight for gender.

Matthew Whitaker:
Certainly. It was a tremendous leader in her own right, very elegant, very intelligent, very well spoken. She helped desegregate the palm croft area in phoenix, almost single handedly with her efforts, and was certainly very active alongside Lincoln. Trained as an educator, but certainly adapted over time to do what was necessary to help desegregate the city. She was very fair skinned, many assumed she was white or Greek or something like that. That's how she was able to help desegregate the community. She went in as a real estate agent and viewed some property, and was able to purchase the house, have a friend purchase the house when it was still in escrow and have the friend transfer the title to her. She was able to look at it because they assumed she was white. It wasn't until Lincoln and Eleanor moved in that the neighborhood actually figured out they were black, because she said once my black husband and black children moved in with me they would know we were black.

Michael Grant:
Did they travel?

Matthew Whitaker: Oh, extensively. He was a pilot, so he had his own plane, he trained all his kids to fly. Often they flew through their own means, they met with Charles decision, Adam Clayton Powell, a number of elected officials all over the country, to help lobby and to raise funds for the movement here. A lot of folks don't know that. When they were in phoenix, they would travel all over the country enlisting support. They knew what was going on in fees, they didn't really come and lend their names to the effort, but they were able to exact some support from them.

Michael Grant:
1964, he was instrumental in bringing Martin Luther King to the valley.

Matthew Whitaker:
He was part of a group that -- I believe it was called the phoenix forum, Herbert Eli was in that organization, they had been working several years trying to bring King to town. They finally succeeded. King was locked up in jail on trumped up charges several times before, and they couldn't get Herement but he came in 1964, gave a rousing speech on Arizona state university's campus and went into the city to some of the black churches and Ragsdale was his escort. He stayed with the Ragsdale in their home after his speech and they were able to chat, and they credit that interaction with King as being something that really reignited their motivation to continue. They said King was one of those folks you meet and you'll never forget meet meeting. He had an aura of confidence and peace about him.

Michael Grant:
Never met him, but you got the impression that impression from watching him.

Matthew Whitaker:
Yeah. Emily Ragsdale said her father Lincoln used to listen to tapes of Martin Luther King's speeches alone by himself, just to be invigorate and motivate and to learn from how King spoke. And then to sort of recharge himself so he could go back out onto the battlefield, so to speak.

Michael Grant:
Having done the book, and you always hesitate to draw conclusions too broadly, buts does it overstate it to say that he was key in this movement, mid 19-40's to mid-1960's and beyond?

Matthew Whitaker:
You mean just in this region, or beyond?

Michael Grant:
In both.

Matthew Whitaker:
I think so. I think so. And several other people were as well. I think it takes a cadre of people, but certainly he was. Behind the scenes, I can't tell you how many people in this city particularly black people, that he helped fund or support. The book would have been longer if I had gone into all of that. But he was. And local people, whether it's a Ragsdale here, or a Robert F. Williams in north Carolina, they're the key to the movement, and King had said a number of times local leaders really are the ones that really get the stuff going on the ground, the grass-roots type of stuff. So I don't think it's overstating it. I think Lincoln Ragsdale, George Brooks in this city, reverend George Brooks said that folks in Phoenix and Arizona owe Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale a debt of gratitude. We'll never know what they have done.

Michael Grant:
Dr. Matthew Whitaker, terrific book, thanks for joining us, talking about it.

Matthew Whitaker:
Thank you. It's always a pleasure. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration, or A.M.D. It is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans. There is no cure, but Pam White says a university of Arizona scientist is looking for one.

Cele Peterson:
If my own child or grandchild comes in, unless they get up close enough to me, I could not tell you who they are. That's maddening.

Announcer:
About five years ago, Tucson business and community leader Cele Peterson was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration or A.M.D. The disease damages the middle part of the retina, which is responsible for central vision and the ability to see detail.

Cele Peterson:
I cannot read a telephone number, no matter how big it may be blown up. I still cannot make the numbers out.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It goes from just distorted vision to a complete loss of vision, and it works its way out. And so you many have? Vision in the periphery, but the center of your visual field has disappeared. And so this is what the person with A.M.D. is experiencing.

Announcer:
Dr. Alan Marmorstein is a researcher. Recently a genetic link to A.M.D. was discovered, and he says finding that gene is just the beginning, not the end. Although it does tell scientists where to look.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
It gives us a clue, and somehow or other this gene appears to be involved in that last stage, which is where you lose vision. So, yeah, it is a very big finding.

Announcer:
The race for a cure for A.M.D. is crucial. Today 15 million Americans have the disease, and that number is expected to double as baby boomers age.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
The state of Arizona today, there's some 30,000-plus individuals who have significant vision loss due to A.M.D.

Announcer:
There are two types of macular degeneration, wet and dry. 90\% of people with A.M.D. have the dry form, which is much more difficult to treat.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
We've sectioned it so you can see what this feature, and these are the deposits, these are -- we've sectioned it so you can see what that looks like. You see this bump that has occurred under the cells which are called the pigment epithelium, and these are the photo receptors. So this layer of cells, the photoreceptors are light sensitive, and where the bump is, the number of photoreceptors and the thickness of that layer of cells is diminished. And so this person, when they see, because it's been elevated over the background, their vision is going to be out of focus.

Announcer:
To find answers, a few years ago the u of a department of ophthalmology and vision science began the southwest A.M.D. research program, and its goal, to eliminate A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
If you can prevent the disease from occurring, you over attain your vision and you'll not have to undergo the more severe treatments that you would otherwise have to.

Announcer:
UofA researchers are look for better ways to diagnose and prevent the disease. The doctor says a good example is heart disease. To treat it, statins are used to lower cholesterol, and thereby offset a heart attack.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
What we're working on is a test that would look into your eye and pick up the earliest stages of this long before vision is lost, and give us a clue as to whether you're at risk for developing A.M.D. having that in hand, and understanding the biological pathways that gives us macular degeneration, we'd like to develop a drug that can be given to those people who are at risk to reduce their risk, just like the statins are given to people to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Announcer:
The older you get, the greater your chances of developing A.M.D. Until a cure is found, he recommends a healthy diet with lots of green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. A healthy lifestyle is also essential.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But the most important thing probably is quit smoking if you do, and if you don't smoke, don't start. Because the biggest environmental risk factor to date for A.M.D. is smoking. It gives a three to fourfold increase risk of A.M.D. it's the only confirmed environmental factor for A.M.D.

Announcer:
A special supplement of vitamin c and zinc is sometimes prescribed to slow the progression of the disease in those with dry A.M.D.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
But that is, although somewhat effective, not super effective. And it will not reverse the loss of vision. It won't prevent you from getting A.M.D., and that's something that's important. There's a lot of people I know who have gone to start taking these supplements to prevent A.M.D., and we don't have any evidence that prevents A.M.D.

Announcer:
The doctor says a cure for A.M.D. is at least a decade away, but researchers are making progress.

Dr. Alan Marmorstein:
I believe in the next couple of years the gene that's we know about will have let us to that pathways, and we'll already be identifying compounds that may be able to intervene.

Cele Peterson:
There will be cures, of course those you who are much younger than I have a much bolter chance, but the point of it is, listen. Listen, observe, and help. And everybody can help by recognizing that this happens to be one of those I call it a challenge.

Michael Grant:
To see a transcript of this program or of any other segment of "Horizon" or if you want to find out about upcoming topics, please visit the website, you'll find that at www.azpbs.org. Thank you very much for joining us on this Martin Luther King holiday. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

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