Phoenix Residents Reflections
Reflections of Homer Smith
I was born in Phoenix in 1915. I lived in the house my parents built at 15335 8th Avenue. I graduated from the grade school then on 7th Avenue and from Thornton Township High School in 1932. My good friend and neighbor at 15333 8th Avenue was James Lawrence. We walked together to high school. His wife Alma lived next door to us before they were married.
At 94, our children have insisted that my wife, Mildred, and I write our history. For me, Phoenix played an important part for my first 20 years. We had electricity for lights but nothing else. I had to carry water from the well in front of the school because my parents didn’t have a well. Everyone had outdoor toilets, no telephones, no sidewalks, and gravel roads with ditches on the side.
Once we visited two other “graduates” of Phoenix, Janet DeYoung who lived on 155th Street, and her husband. She is over 90 now and they now live in Florida. Her whole family of 11 children came to Phoenix from South Dakota during the 30’s depression. Her father and older brothers used their truck to haul wood for the poor through WPA, Work Progress Administration. My mother, a widow, walked 155th Street to and from the Buda Company in Harvey everyday. When the sidewalks, gas, water, and sewer came so many people didn’t or couldn’t pay the assessments and the village went bankrupt. At times she made only $25 a MONTH. Homer Smith now resides in Maryland.
THEY WERE THE FIRST – THE 1967 COOLIDGE TIGERS
Reflections of Larry Lashley:
There is a well-known fact around the South Suburban area; athletes thrive in Phoenix, Illinois. The class of 1967 was no different. This was the class that was chosen to integrate Thornridge High School. When you ask around, no one can tell you why they were chosen, just that they went there and took care of business.
The basketball team led by Captain Anthony “Grubbs” Jackson went on to become state champions in their senior year (1971). The members included: (1) James “Puke” Loggins, who at Thornridge became the first black class president, (2) Michael “Buzz” Payne, who played football (defense back) and was honored in his junior year with honorable MSMBSN All Conference, (3) Art Riley, who went on to become an all-state football player, (4) James “Flash” Lashley, who was voted co-captain of the track team as a sophomore.
There is something else that is appealing and special about the Coolidge Class of 1967. As a senior class they had the distinction of having been crowned the 1970 Mythical State Championship Football Team and the 1971 State Championship Basketball Team. This was not done before and as of this writing, not since.
Coolidge Graduate Movers of 1970 Football Champions
Tyrone Lawrence- All Conference lineman
Art Riley- All State lineman
Michael “Buzz” Payne- Junior honorable mention; All Conference defense back
James “Flash” Lashley- wide receiver (track co-captain)
Edgar Snoddy- wingback (5th place wrestling 1971@ 112lbs.)
Coolidge 1967 graduate members of 1971 State Championship Basketball Team
Anthony “Grubbs” Jackson – Captain
James “Puke” Loggins
“What Phoenix means to Me”
In past months, a WGN Radio Personality took it upon himself to make unfavorable comments regarding the Village of Phoenix. As a life long village resident, it was not only my duty but my honor to respond and to uphold the dignity of Phoenix and it’s residents. I was genuinely proud to know, that I was not the only person to hear this verbal attack. Having heard his unsavory comments, I began to reflect and analyze what Phoenix means to me.
During high school, the Phoenix students always had to defend themselves against our neighbors to the East and to the West. Then, upon entering the world of work, the same question was always asked, “Phoenix Arizona?” Time and time again I had to describe our little town nestled between Harvey and South Holland. But that little town is Home! Not too many people have left their childhood homes and memories behind, never to travel that road again.
Yet for me, Phoenix holds a life full of memories. Our 9×5 block perimeter is a special place. It may be small in size but its great in memory. My history. Who can ever forget going to Mr. Johnson’s candy store, sticking your face through the hole in the wall or peeping through the gate to see what you wanted? Mr. Johnson had the BEST freeze pops in town! And that’s not to slight The Corner Store or Ms. Massey’s. Then just mention “The Courts.” Simply put “The Courts” was the place to be. Some of you may beg to differ, but Michael Jordan and the Bulls would take a beating against the Batts and Gatlin boys! Everybody knew everybody! And sometimes you wished they didn’t, because whatever trouble you were in on one side of town, always seemed to beat you home. Yet, as a child I couldn’t appreciate the watchful eyes of the neighbors, but as a parent, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Phoenix is special because of the people that live here, that grow here, and that raise families here. It’s about knowing your neighbor. It’s about not being afraid to let your children play outside. It’s about summer time, sitting on your porch, watching the kids catching lightning bugs.
I thank God, for Phoenix and that little has changed since my childhood days. Oh, it’s changing, but it’s changing for the better. My memories won’t be the same memories that my children have. They can’t, it’s a different time. My kids know nothing about Mr. Johnson, but they do know about Gils and Gibson’s. The Courts may not hold the same fascination for them, as it did for me, but they can recall the open gym at “The Center.” There’s one memory that will we all be able to hold on to, for years to come, that being the Annual Phoenix Family Festival. Phoenix has dared to return to days gone by, when the families, can come together and enjoy each other. No other city around can boast about their festivals the way Phoenix can. We’ve set an example, and others can only try to compare.
So when you see your old classmates at your reunions, remind them about how great Phoenix is! Phoenix is 109 years old, and continues to rise, like its great mythological namesake.
Phoenix, the ties that bind families together!!
Reflections of Classie Wilson
My family moved to Phoenix in 1923 from Alabama. I attended the original Coolidge School, which was located at 153rd and 7th Avenue. I remember that the school had two floors and had a strange fire escape that looked more like a sliding board. We had school in small temporary buildings that looked like trailers. My family moved with an uncle when we arrived and we stayed there until our home was built. We lived in a small house on 8th Avenue near 153rd until our father and others in the neighborhood finished our house. The men finished our house in about 10 months. Our new house was located at 153rd and 8th Avenue just across the street from our uncle. None of the houses around us had indoor plumbing; we had to use the outhouse. Our new house also did not have a well so my brothers had to carry buckets of water from the well at the school; it wasn’t bad because the school was only a block away.
My experiences as a child were happy ones. The community was very close knit. The town was mostly Polish and they treated us as equals. We played together, we went to school together and got into trouble together. On those occasions when we did get into trouble the white parents would discipline us or black parents would do it, it all simply depended on who caught us first.
I was only able to complete the 8th grade because I had to care for my younger sisters and brothers while my mother worked. It was very common for students to only get a minimum amount of education. The students who attended high school were from the well to do families. It was not until the mid 1930s that the number of students in high school began to rise.
As a child I remember that people used to fish in a creek that flowed down the alley just a few hundred feet south of 153rd Street from 6th Avenue West to Halsted Street. The creek eventually dried up once sewers were put in place. The sewers were completed sometime during the early 1930s. I can also remember that we used to have a carnival every year along Halsted Street where the old Village Hall sat. The carnival was cancelled for a few years when the police chief’s daughter was killed on one of the rides. A few years later the carnivals returned but they were located on the land where the Phoenix manor sits. The carnival was a yearly event and was well attended. I can also remember that merchants came from Maxwell Street to sell their items at the carnival.
One of the most memorable people in the village was Dr. Winston. Dr. Winston would walk all over town, treating the ill, and delivering babies. He had to walk most of the time because there were no roads to drive a car. I’m not sure when Dr. Winston started, but I know it was in the 1920s because he delivered my sister who was born in 1931. Not only did we have a black doctor in town but we also had a black dentist. I’m not sure but I believe that he and Dr. Winston were related. They both owned homes on 5th Avenue between 151st and 152nd Street. Dr. Winston’s brother-in-law, Mr. Hancock, was one of the first blacks elected to political office in Phoenix.
Another memorable person from early Phoenix that I can think of is Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson used to raise hogs at his home on 8th Avenue. Those were the largest hogs I have ever seen! I believe that Mr. Jefferson was the first black resident in Phoenix. The house that he built on 8th Avenue still stands.
I married Central Wilson in 1940 and we began building our house. My husband built our house much like my father had built ours 17 years before. Men in the community came by and built the house by hand. We didn’t have a contractor. Here it is 70 years later and my house still stands at 15333 5th Avenue. My husband moved to Phoenix in 1920 from Atlanta, Georgia. He and the rest of his rather large family (the Cantrell’s) moved here about the same time and lived in Phoenix and Harvey. My husband worked for several years at the stockyards in Chicago. Once we got married we got tired of working in those smelly stockyards and got a job working at Whiting Corporation in Harvey, where he worked until his retirement in 1969.
Reflections of Ellis Banks
We moved to Phoenix in 1938 from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, when I was nine years old. We lived in our uncle’s house on 4th Avenue in the basement. The town was made of mostly Polish people. There were only a handful of blacks in the community. There were few problems in town, and we were treated well.
My father raised hogs and chickens like so many others in the community. He also had a small moving business. He owned a pickup truck and we would move anyone who needed his services. My father Joe Banks, also would cut and saw wood and sell it during the winter months for people to heat their homes. He would pick the wood from Bliss Steel Company, load it on his truck, cut it up and sell it. With the moving business and the selling of the firewood he did quite well.
The church that we attended was New Covenant on 5th Avenue. At that time the pastor was Rev. Whitaker. The church was just a little church on the alley, nothing like what it is today. In the early 1960s we moved to Mt. Zion, which is my church home today.
One thing that stands out in my mind is that Phoenix had a lot of stores and businesses. There were eight grocery stores, a bakery, several barber shops, a hardware store and a couple of shoe repair shops. Marcelleus Carraway had a cleaners in town and so did Judge Brock. In fact not only did Judge Brock administer the law he had a cleaners in the basement of his house and he even owned a restaurant in town. We also had a lot of liquor establishments in town. Most of them were on Halsted Street or across the tracks. The postmaster was Judge Atkins who ran the post office out of his house. I believe that the post office was discontinued after Judge Atkins died.
The people that are most memorable to me were Judge Brock who later left Phoenix to become a state judge. He was later replaced by Judge Allen, both of whom were black. Another memorable person was film director and actor Melvin Van Peoples. He and I went to grade school and high school together. I believe his family moved away during his second or third year at Thornton. The most widely recognized person from Phoenix during that period was the great jazz and blues star Louis Jordan. He never really played in any of the clubs in this area. He was a big star, so you had to go to the Savoy or Regal Theater to see him perform. When he was in town we all made sure that we put on our Sunday best to go see him. Jordan’s wife, a lady named Fleece Brooks was from Phoenix, they lived in a house on 5th Avenue that still stands today.
Talking about the history of Phoenix brings back a lot of fun memories. We sure knew how to have fun.
Mr. Banks is currently a member of the “Golden Agers” of Phoenix.
Reflections of Inez Watkins:
I was born in Phoenix in 1932. I was delivered by Dr. Winston, the only black doctor that this community has ever had. Dr. Winston delivered me as well as every other black child born during this period.
My father Allan Sanders worked as a coal truck driver and later as a janitor and finally as an employee of Allied Steel Company in Harvey. My father later became the minister of Mt. Zion Church. I can remember that the church was originally held in a small house that sat on a 25ft lot. The church owned the house next to the church that was rented out. It amazes me today to think that we could have held church services in such a small building. In the 50s, the church built the existing structure, which is next to the location of the original church.
One of the most memorable people of my early years in Phoenix was Dr. Winston. He was a kind and well respected man. I remember he came to the Lawrence’s home to deliver a baby and I asked, “What are you carrying in that bag?” A baby, he would answer. After a few hours, he emerged and told us that it was a girl. As children we were amazed at his ability to make this happen.
Another very respected man was Mr. Brock who served as the Village Magistrate. In fact he had an office on 3rd Avenue and married my husband Eddie and I.
For entertainment there were many things for us to do. One thing was in the winter to ice skate on the pond on 153rd and 8th Avenue. We would spend endless hours skating there until the city started using this location as a dump. Trucks would come by and dump steel and bottles in the hole and we would go in and take out the pieces of steel and sell them. As a child we would also take great pleasures in waiting for the milkman to deliver the milk, we would always try to sneak around and take the cream off the top before our mother would catch us. As teenagers, we’d go visit a place called Mr. Cagers. It was a place on 4th Avenue where we would all go and dance and listen to the jukebox. Mr. Brock owned a similar type of business that was located on 5th Avenue. It also had a jukebox and played music. He also had a restaurant at this same location. As far as jobs were concerned the only jobs available during the summer months was working in South Holland picking onions and tomatoes. I am sure that most kids today would not touch this type of job but we really had a lot of fun doing this. There were also several stores in Phoenix that I can remember. One was Sanita’s store, which was located on 7th Avenue and Carr’s store, which was located on 6th Avenue. I am not sure what happened to Sanita’s store but the Carr’s eventually sold their store to Willie Ward. These were good business people who treated all of us with respect.
Growing up in early Phoenix was like one big happy family. It didn’t just seem that way it was actually fact. Most of the people in Phoenix were related to one another. On 8th Avenue where I grew up, were my two aunts, two uncles, and cousins. The Long Family that lived across the street from me were not only my best friends but also my cousins. As you look around Phoenix today I don’t know that much of that had changed, it is still one big happy family.
Reflections of Mrs. Iola Toler
My husband and I moved to Phoenix in 1936 from Chicago, we built our house on 152nd and 8th Avenue. When we moved on this block there were only two other houses on the street. Both of them were owned by Polish families. My husband Frank worked as an electrician for a company in Harvey. He worked there for many years until his retirement. I was very fortunate that with the salary my husband earned I did not have to work, that gave me an opportunity to do volunteer work in the community.
One of the organizations that I joined was a group called the Goodwill Club. Amanda Riley, one of the first blacks to live in Phoenix, headed the group. This group helped parents of foster children by providing food and clothing. In the late 1950s, a friend, Ruth Steele, and me served as community representatives for both Thornton Community College and Prairie State University.
In the 1960s myself and several other community residents decided that we needed recreational programs for our children, as a result we started the Phoenix Park District. We borrowed from Mutual Bank in Harvey and built the Field House and started programs for the youths.
In 1965, we realized that our children were being shortchanged in their education. Phoenix and South Holland shared a school district but the bulk of the money and resources were being spent in South Holland. We filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to integrate the school district and won. School District 151 thus became the first Northern School District to integrate under court order.
The following year I worked on a committee to set up a library in the basement of the Village Hall. One of the local lumberyards donated wood to build the shelves and we obtained a small grant to buy books. The library lasted for several years but the basement in the Village Hall flooded and ruined the books and we were not able to replace them.
If there were a person in Phoenix that sticks out in my mind as being memorable it would be L. K. Watkins. He was second black Mayor of Phoenix and served as a member of School District 151 Board of Education. Mr. Watkins was involved in many activities and always seemed to have the best interest of the community at heart. He was a fair, honest, Christian man who was a role model for the rest of the community. Another person who sticks out in my mind is Louie O’Neal. I believe that Mr. O’Neal’s family came to Phoenix in 1918 and he was the first black graduate of Coolidge and one of the first blacks to graduate from Thornton High School. Mr. O’Neal was also one of the first black athletes at Thornton and after graduation went away to college.
I am currently a member of the Golden Agers of Phoenix and I try to remain active in the community and though I don’t kick as high as I used to I am still kicking.
Mrs. Toler is 101 years old and currently resides at the Senior Citizens Building in Harvey; Toler Park on 4th avenue in Phoenix was dedicated in her honor.
Reflections of Pat Bielenin
I was born in Phoenix in 1916. I was born in the area known as the triangle, which is the area that is across the tracks that is now Harvey but was Phoenix. My parents migrated from Poland, although I am not sure when. My family had eight children of which I was the oldest. My family was very poor and making ends meet was very difficult. I can remember when we would walk to Harvey with a wagon to pick up pieces of lumber so that we could heat our house. We would also get large pieces of coal from the men who worked on the railroad. We would sometimes make them sandwiches in exchange for coal. We would also make the trip to Harvey and rummage through the alley to find scraps of food and bread to feed our farm animals that consisted of pigs, goats, and chickens.
One of the most disturbing events of my childhood was what happened to my little sister Lottie. She was hit by a car, while walking to Harvey with me, to get wood to heat our home. She later died. The driver was drunk, and he also happened to be the Police Chief. I believe that later on he lost his daughter in some type of auto accident. It’s been over 80 years and I still miss her.
As far as school was concerned, I attended St. John in Phoenix but only until the 8th grade I had to drop out of school to take care of my younger brother and sisters. By my teenage years things were going better for my family. My mother bought a tavern on 155th Street that all of us had to work in. We also began to raise pigeons to make money. We actually did quite well with them. We would raise them, then clean them and sell them for 15 cents. Many people don’t realize this, but pigeons are quite tasty.
Our street was quite busy. My mother owned a tavern and we had to work hard because there was plenty of competition. There were seven other liquor establishments on our block alone. There were a few other businesses. They consisted of a jewelry shop, three grocery stores, a shoe repair shop and a bakery. Most of the business owners had their shops in the front of the building and they either lived in the back or upstairs. The first black person that I remember in Phoenix was a man named John Steele. He also owned a business on our street selling chicken feet. It seems strange today, but during this period Mr. Steele did quite well with his business. The other blacks in town lived on the other end of town 7th and 8th Avenues.
For entertainment we went to the Buffia Dance Hall that is located at 156th and Halsted. I met a handsome gentleman named Steve at this dance hall and we ended up getting married in 1936. My husband worked at Allied Tube for 36 years.
I still live in the home that Steve and I purchased in 1936. Our home was actually moved to this location on telephone poles. They simply rolled it down the street. I remember the carnivals that used to come to Phoenix every year. They were held at the area that is now Phoenix Manor. It was easily the biggest event of the summer season for many of us.
I spend a great deal of my time today cutting grass and planting flowers on the vacant lots along Halsted Street. I have watched this town come a long way and I am proud to be a member of it.
If you ride down Halsted Street you will see a little lady planting flowers, and cutting grass that is Miss Pat. She has been keeping that area beautiful for the past 40 years. It is believed that she is the oldest living continuous resident of the Village of Phoenix.
Reflections of Arthur Burton Jr. also known as “Turk” Burton
I was born on September 2, 1949 I moved to Phoenix at the age of one from Chicago. My older brother, Charles, was eight years older. Charles transferred to Coolidge School from McCosh in Englewood. All I can remember is Phoenix as a child; I was too young to remember anything about Englewood. We had all types of animals around the house. I can remember the streets being very dusty and crews would come out and put oil on them to keep the dust down. Sometimes during heavy rain great portions of Phoenix would flood as would Harvey. My main playmates were Frankie Toler, Vernon Brown, Wallace Kirklin, Leonard Mayfield, Richard Halbert, Hershel Lewis, Darnell Sanderfer, Walter White, and Harry Fredericks. Mrs. Toler was like a second mother to all of us.
I started playing basketball at the age of eight. We had a dirt basketball court on Eighth Avenue across the street from the Toler home. I played basketball until I was eighteen. Richard Halbert, who led Thornton Township High School to the 1966 championship, began his playing days on this court. Likewise for Herschel Lewis, who made all state in 1968, and later made NAIA All American at Winona State University in Minnesota. He later played on taxi squad for the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors. Donnell Sanderfer also developed his out of sight basketball skills on the Eighth Avenue’s dirt court. On that court is where he earned his nickname “Dusty”. Donnell became one of the greatest basketball players in the history of Coolidge School, and became a playground legend.
My brother Charles, graduated from Thornton Township High School in 1958. He played football, basketball and ran track. Charles also made the National Honor Society while attending Thornton, one of the first African American to receive this honor. One of Charles’ inspirations was Phoenix resident Darnell Sanford who also played football, basketball, track and baseball at Thornton. Sanford made Junior College All American in football while attending Thornton Community College. As a teenager, I can remember allowing Quinn Buckner to play basketball with us when he was only twelve years old. It was clear to us then that he was something special. I didn’t play basketball at Coolidge but I did make the basketball team at Thornton.
At the age of ten I began to play bongo and conga drums with friends on the school ground at Coolidge. We developed a bongo band with dancers and became the rage of the school while I was there. I was in the first class Jessica Buckner taught at Coolidge School. She later became the principal and superintendent of the district. In 1969, along with Edward Beard, Sterling Banks, Earl Alexander, and Robert Coleman (all from Phoenix), we developed a rhythm and blues band called SOUL NATURALS. We won the Illinois State Battle of the Bands and came in as first runner-up to the champions of the Natural Battle of the Bands, in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1969. We played few other members from Harvey and Markham. Earlier I had to play my first musical job in Phoenix at the White Rose Lounge with Teddy Hawkins, Reggie Johnson, and Leonard Mayfield. Teddy was a very good guitar player and his father owned the White Rose Lounge on Eighth Avenue. During the 1950s and early 1960s, artists who played at the White Rose Lounge included B. B. King, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Ann Peebles, Little Milton, Artie “Blues Boy” White, Willie Dixon and a host of other Blues greats.
Mrs. White who lived across the street from us would have a large yard party every summer, which would last about a week. She would put up streamers of lights and a large dance floor. People would eat barbecue, drink beer, and dance until the wee hours of the morning. On the East side of the village new homes were built in the 60s and a family with the last name Rose moved in. Bobby, Greg, and Kenny who lived on Eighth Avenue formed a band and I would perform with them from time to time. They later gained national fame as the Rose Brothers and appeared on the Soul Train television show. In 1971, I had a Jazz-funk band called Manchild in which Greg Rose played the drums. We made an appearance on the Marty Faye television show. Greg was also an accomplished athlete and was a star on the Thornridge High School team, which won the state championship two years in a row. Greg made All-State in basketball in 1973 and was one of the greatest basketball players ever developed in Phoenix. Two other outstanding Phoenix basketball players of that era were Lloyd and Boyd Batts. Boyd played on the championship along side Greg Rose and Quinn Buckner. Sports writers in the Chicago newspapers consider Lloyd as the greatest high school basketball player in Illinois history. He later attended Cincinnati University and played professionally in the American Basketball Association with the Virginia Squires. The Thornridge High School championship teams that included, Rose, Buckner, and Batts is considered the greatest high school basketball team in Illinois History. Buckner later played at Indiana University and professionally with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
I attended Governors State University on a full scholarship for my bongo and conga drumming where I played with the university jazz band. My major in school was Africa American Studies and my minor was in Latin American Studies. In 1973, I joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which I still belong to as a member. Another member in the association is drummer Dushon Mosley who also grew up in Phoenix.
My Mother’s side of the family is from Oklahoma, where I finished high school. Many of my uncles and cousins are cowboys. In 1985, I decided to write a book on the history of African Americans on the western frontier. My first book, BLACK, RED, and DEADLY: BLACK AND INDIAN GUNFIGHTERS OF THE INDIAN TERRITORY, 1907-1970, was published in 1991. My second book, BLACK BUCKSKIN AND BLUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN SCOUTS AND SOLDIERS ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER, was published in 1991.
Currently in the Village of Phoenix I am a trustee over Public Property. Previously I was village trustee from 1985-1995, where I was chair of the Police and Fire Committee. I also served as the campaign manager for Mayor Terry R. Wells’ first election as Mayor. I am presently the Director of Minority Affairs for Columbia College Chicago. My wife, Patrice, teaches at South Suburban College, she is on the school board for District 151 and is a Phoenix Park District Commissioner. My daughter, Aisha is in college. I have appeared on two jazz recordings, “Pure Fire” with saxophonist Vandy Harris and “Venus” with saxophonist Ari Brown.
Reflections of Arthur Burton Sr.
I was born September 10, 1903 in Wintersville, Mississippi. I came to Harvey in 1921 from Little Rock, Arkansas. I was recruited by railroad employers to come to the Chicago area to elevate the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. Although I arrived originally to work on the railroad I never did, instead I found employment in one of the factories in Harvey. While living in Harvey in 1921, I met Louis Neal who lived in Phoenix. On various occasions I would come over to Phoenix to visit Mr. Neal who was in school at the time. The village was sparsely populated and many people had farm animals and vegetable gardens.
I returned to Little Rock around 1923 and finished my elementary education and my 8th grade diploma from Shorter College. I made another trip north to Chicago around 1925 where I worked at a restaurant in East Hazel Crest and later moved to Chicago. I found employment with the Pullman Company as a Sleeping Car Porter, I held that job until 1968. In 1950, I decided to move my wife, Evelyn and my two sons, Charles and Arthur to Phoenix. My family became members of Daniel Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church. There were several other Pullman Porters in the village including Mr. Berry, Mr. Mayfield, Mr. Perkins and several others. Mr. Berry’s daughter, Mary Ann, became a noted actress and appeared in the movie, “The Wiz”.
I purchased a home on Eighth Avenue where I had a large vegetable garden and raised pigs, chickens, ducks and pigeons. Mr. Mayfield who lived across the street owned horses. At that time Phoenix was very rural with gravel roads. Phoenix was surrounded on the East and South by large truck farms where migrant workers would come in to harvest the crops. I owned the first oil furnace in the village; everyone else heated their homes by coal. Arthur Burton, Sr. was one of the oldest residents to ever reside in the Village of Phoenix.
Reflections of Joe Bulik
The Bulik family moved to Phoenix in 1914 from Budapest, Hungary to escape World War I. We purchased a house in the 152nd block of Vincennes. My family still resides at that location. My first job was at the fire department as a junior firefighter, which I started at the age of 16. I served as a firefighter for over thirty years with the Village of Phoenix. In 1988, I was appointed Fire Chief by Mayor Belmont. We were one of the few communities in the country that had a full-blooded Dalmatian mascot. The dog, whose name, by the way, was Phoenix, was donated by the wife of former heavy weight champion, Muhammad Ali. We were a regular participant in the Bud Biliken Parade. ”Phoenix” always drew a lot of attention wherever we took him. It was a sad occasion when he died in 1992.
Not only did I serve as a firefighter, I also served as a radio operator for three years for the Police Department.
The Fire Chiefs over the years were:
C.A. Cabala, Bert Jacobie, George Berry, James Smith, James Cole, Arthur Livingston, Marcella Carraway, Marvin Anderson and James Griffin.
Reflections of Alma Lawrence
I was born in Hollandale, Mississippi. I came to Phoenix in 1922 when I was 6 years old. I attended the original Coolidge School that was on 153rd Street and 7th Avenue. The school was nothing more than a portable trailer that was later replaced by the current building that is on 155th Street and 7th Avenue.
When we moved to Phoenix, we moved on 8th Avenue. The community was mostly white. My next-door neighbor, Homer Smith, who was white, became my best friend. His mother would walk the two of us to school each day. There were only a few black families in town that I can remember. They were the Strongs, Ewings, Wrights, Jeffersons, and the Rileys. During the 1920s, several other black families moved in and many built their own homes. My uncle Junius Jones helped to build several of them.
I lived in Phoenix with my grandmother because my mother died when I was 9 months old and my father stayed in Mississippi to care for our farm. Attending church was one of the highest priorities for my grandmother but there were no churches in Phoenix to attend. So she sent me to one of the churches in Harvey, Second Baptist. That was a long walk to make every Sunday. Not only was the walk a long one, but also there were no paved streets in Phoenix and no sidewalks. I would get so mad about making that walk that I many times said to myself that I was going to tell grandmother off. But I would quickly come to my senses and realize that this was not a good idea if I wanted to remain healthy. One day I asked a couple of girls what church did they attend. They told me that church was being held in one of their houses. That was all I needed to hear, I asked my grandmother if I could join this church and she agreed. I began attending this church that later became known as New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.
As a child I can remember that people would fish in the creek that flowed along the side of my house. The creek began on Halsted Street and would flow down the alley and connect with the creek that was just North of South Suburban College. In the winter we would ice skate in the frozen creek, it provided fun in both the summer and winter. Later the creek was filled in with construction material and the flow of the creek stopped. It was also during this period that Phoenix began to get sewers, streetlights and sidewalks. It is hard to believe that, in order to go out at night, we would have to use lanterns, but we did.
In 1930, I married my sweetheart who happened to be my next-door neighbor, James Lawrence. My husband was one of the first black graduates from Thornton Township High School and he and my cousin, Louie Neal were two of the first black athletes at Thornton. Our wedding was held in a house on 8th Avenue that later became Mt. Zion Church. In fact my older brother, Allan Sanders served for over 30 years as pastor of the church. Rev. Whitaker, who later became pastor of New Covenant, performed the ceremony and Homer Smith played for the wedding. Homer’s family was such good people I have many special memories of them. Homer’s mother simply fell in love with our son. She would come by to sit with him all the time. She made us feel as if we were a part of their family.
In early Phoenix, there was not a lot to do for entertainment. There was a Masons’ organization in Harvey but they never really got going in Phoenix. They were the organizations that had the best parties. So in order for us to go dancing and have fun, we would have to go to Harvey. The Masons built a hall on Broadway where they would always have events. We had a carnival that would come to town every year. The carnival would be held in the area that is now Phoenix Manor. During most of the year that area was rather wet and swampy. But, it always seemed to be dry during the carnival. If we really wanted to go out for best entertainment, we would go down to the Savoy on 47th Street in Chicago. During the summer, jazz great Louis Jordan, who lived in Phoenix, would have a picnic in the park on 7th Avenue. The entire town would close when Louis Jordan came to town. Dr. Winston, the only doctor in town, started an organized baseball league in that many of the men in the neighborhood played on, including my husband. Some of the women wanted to start our own league but they would not let us. So we had to be content with going and watching the men play. With Louis Jordan living in town, it also brought other talent to Phoenix. Hawkins Tavern was able to attract people like Dinah Washington and B.B. King before they became famous.
I have many fond memories of Phoenix, my late husband James served as Village Trustee in the 1960s and later as the Health Inspector. We raised our family here and lived on the same block that we moved on in the 1920s. There is no other place I would rather live than Phoenix.
Reflections of Jean Bryant Hampton
Hi, my name is Jean Bryant-Hampton. Bryant is my maiden name. I grew up in Phoenix from 1959 to 1966. I attended Coolidge Elementary School, where I was president of the 8th grade. In the last 25 years when I visit Chicago, I travel to Phoenix, drive around the streets and always stop at Coolidge. There are alot of great memories. I am so thankful that I grew up in Phoenix. I was a teenager in my junior year at Thornton Township High School when my family moved. I am so glad to see Phoenix is thriving. Are these people still in the neighborhood? Gerald Hawkins, Marvin Wells, and the Halbert family (Richard Halbert was killed in an auto accident), but he had a sister named Marilyn. I certainly commended the community of Phoenix for maintenance of what I still consider an “Oasis Near Chicago”. By the way, what is the median price of a home in Phoenix? I just remembered, are any of these teachers at Coolidge still around: Mrs. Piernas, Mr. Dennison or Mrs. Gray? Thanks and God Bless. Jean Bryant aka Jai Michaels, African-American Image Press.