Author: Jenny Li

Johnny Bowens

Oral Histories

Oral Histories

An Oral History From Johnny Bowens

Video by African American Museum of Southern Arizona

Dr. Johnny Bowens is a Senior Lecturer in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Arizona.

He earned his B.A. degree in Sociology from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1968. Continuing his academic journey, he obtained an M. Ed. Degree in Educational Administration from the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, in 1973. Driven by his passion for community dynamics, he pursued a Ph.D. degree in Community Sociology from Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, completing his doctorate in 1978.

Courses taught by Dr. Johnny Bowens include “African American Studies: A History of Ideas” and “Introduction to African American Studies.”

Through his dedication to learning and research, Dr. Bowens has honed his expertise in community organizations, making significant contributions to various civic and community initiatives and earning numerous special awards.

Information sourced from UA Africana Studies

Watch the Clip

Academics and Athletics in a Segregated Environment

Johnny Wesley Bowens was born on June 2nd, 1946, in Jacksonville, Florida. With over five decades of marriage, three children, and ten grandchildren, his life serves as a testament to the power of love, determination, and continuous learning.

Dr. Johnny Bowens’ dedication to social justice and equal rights guided him toward a career in urban planning and education administration, recognizing the profound impact of systemic racism on communities and seeking to create positive change. This commitment led him to actively engage in local politics actively, advocating for equal opportunities and social justice for all, even in the face of various instances of discrimination, including biased real estate practices. Dr. Bowens’ relentless pursuit of challenging the status quo and promoting understanding among diverse communities remains unwavering.

His inspiring journey teaches us about social justice and breaking barriers through advocacy and activism in local politics. From his childhood in segregated Hialeah to overcoming obstacles in academics and athletics, Dr. Johnny Bowens’ story exemplifies determination. Embracing education and social justice, he becomes a powerful advocate, engaging in local politics and shattering barriers. Dr. Bowens’ life demonstrates the power of continuous learning and challenging systemic racism, inspiring us to embrace change and foster understanding for a more inclusive society. His passion for education and community organizations has earned him numerous special awards, and he continues to make a positive impact in the lives of many.

Watch the Full Interview

Copyright © 2023, African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.

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Janet Harmon Bragg

Legacy Stories

Legacy Stories

Janet Harmon Bragg portrait

Janet Harmon Bragg

Janet Harmon Bragg spent the major part of her life encouraging blacks to become active in aviation. She was an active pilot for over 35 years, earned a Commercial Pilot License and logged over 2,000 flying hours. In 1984, Bragg was honored by the University of Arizona Black Alumni Association as the first black woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license in the USA. She also was presented the Certificate of Appreciation by the FAA and was awarded the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award for her contributions to aviation by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Janet Bragg is part of the Women in Flight Exhibit in Hangar 1.

American amateur aviator

Janet Harmon Bragg was an American amateur aviator. From her humble beginnings, she became the first African American woman to earn a private pilot’s license in the United States in 1934 and, in 1942, the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license. (Bessie Coleman did earn a pilot’s license but went to France to do so.)

An aviation pioneer, Janet Harmon Bragg, broke barriers and soared to heights in the early 20th century. Her legacy, marked by courage and determination, continues to inspire generations. She moved to Tucson, Arizona, from Chicago due to her husband’s pulmonary illness and brought in tow her nephew, Clarence Harper, whom she had been raising, and was also there for his son, Clarence Harper, Jr., who both still reside in Tucson.

Ms. Harmon Bragg had an extraordinary life story, one of resilience, determination, and groundbreaking achievements. Born in Griffin, Georgia, on March 24, 1907, she faced numerous obstacles due to her gender and race but ultimately left an indelible mark on aviation history.

Pioneering African American Aviator

  • Growing up in the segregated South, Bragg attended segregated schools in Griffin and Fort Valley before furthering her education at Fort Valley High and Industrial School.
  • Later, she pursued nursing studies at Spelman Seminary. Despite the racial barriers she encountered, Bragg practiced nursing at Griffin Hospital before eventually relocating to Illinois during the Great Depression.
  • In Chicago, Bragg found employment as a registered nurse and later as a healthcare inspector for an insurance company. It was during this time that she seized the opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of flying airplanes. Despite facing discrimination, she enrolled in evening classes at the Aeronautical University, formerly the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service, in 1933.
  • Working tirelessly during the day, she earned her private pilot’s license and saved enough to purchase her own aircraft, contributing with students to the construction of an airstrip in Robbins, Illinois, called the Challenger Aero Club, and she was the co-founder of the first African American airport.
  • During World War II, Bragg sought to contribute her skills to the war effort by attempting to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and attending Tuskegee Institute an African American pilots training program. Despite her qualifications, she faced discrimination based on both race and gender. Nevertheless, Bragg persisted, ultimately earning her commercial pilot’s license in 1943 in Illinois, becoming the first African American woman to do so.
  • Throughout her career, Bragg dedicated herself to promoting aviation education and opportunities for African Americans. She actively participated in Civilian Pilot Training programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and advocated for increased inclusion of African Americans in the US Army and Air Corps.

African Americans Who Flew First

A Legacy Story About Janet Harmon Bragg

Narrated by her nephews, The Harper Family

Video by African American Museum of Southern Arizona

Clarence Harper – Clip

Ms. Bragg’s contributions to aviation were recognized posthumously when she was inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000. Prior to this, she had been honored with the Bishop Wright Aviation Industry Award in 1985 and received certificates of appreciation from the US Department of Transportation and recognition from Women in Aviation International and the aerospace industry. She was a 2022 inductee to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.

Janet Harmon Bragg’s legacy as a trailblazer and inspiration to future generations of African American pilots is cemented not only in her achievements but also in her unwavering determination to defy the odds and pursue her dreams.

Clarence Harper – Full Interview

Copyright © 2023, African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.

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Jackie Robinson

Legacy Stories

Legacy Stories

photo provided by Irma Sherwood Moran

Jackie Robinson

Jack Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972), the first African American Major League Baseball (MLB) player, broke the color barrier in 1947.
His impact on and off the field inspired the civil rights movement. In 1997, MLB retired his No. 42 jersey across all teams – the first athlete in any sport to receive this honor. They also established “Jackie Robinson Day,” observed annually on April 15, where all players wear No. 42 to commemorate his legacy.
He was a trailblazer, winning prestigious awards and contributing to the Dodgers’ World Series victory. His legacy continues to be celebrated for breaking racial barriers in sports and society. 

photo provided by Irma Sherwood Moran

A Legacy Story About Jackie Robinson

Narrated by Irma Sherwood Moran

Video by African American Museum of Southern Arizona

Irma Sherwood Moran – Clip

Irma Sherwood Moran – Full Interview

Video narrated by Irma Sherwood Moran

Video production by Mingde & Jenny Li (AAMSAZ)

Copyright © 2024, African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.

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Beyond Juneteenth

An Inspiring Juneteenth Celebration with REV. DR. BERNICE KING and DR. ILYASAH SHABAZZ at the University of Arizona

On June 19, 2023, the University of Arizona celebrated its inaugural observation of Juneteenth at Centennial Hall. The event, attended by a diverse audience of students, faculty, and community members, was an electrifying evening. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, honored the university with their presence. Moderated by Denise TrimbleSmith, the director of justice initiatives at the UA, the discussion explored the profound significance of Juneteenth and the enduring legacies of their remarkable mothers. It emphasized the pivotal role of women in driving meaningful social change.

We were grateful to the Beyond Juneteenth Committee, Mayor Regina Romero, and UA President Dr. Robert Robbins for organizing this incredible event. Their efforts contribute to the ongoing celebration and honoring of African American history.

Photo by Joe Jackson

Video produced by Jenny Li

Thank you the College of Humanities

We are truly grateful for the support from Dean AP Durand and the College of Humanities. We have worked for the past year with Africana Studies, Dr. Tani Sanchez, Dr. Bryan Carter, Dr. Praise, and Dr. Bayo. Thank you all for your support of our mission.

College of Humanities students learn essential skills with a human perspective to navigate the workforce of the future. Why select this major:

  • Solve the grand challenges of a rapidly changing world
  • Engage and collaborate local and international communities
  • Enhance communication and work ethics with people from diverse backgrounds

BPA-Black Pilots of America! 

Black Pilots of America!

Bob and I took a trip to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, last month and joined in the annual “fly–in” celebration of the BPA!  Many of these pilots flew their own planes to the event and participated in taking people up for rides. President Brian Worthington greeted everyone and made sure that there was plenty of viewing of “Operation Skyhook” and delicious southern eating! We were delighted at the skill of these fliers at the Pine Bluff Regional Airport “Gider Field” as we saw balloon drops and more. The Bronze Eagles of Texas, Roscoe Draper Chapter from Philadelphia, other cities like Kansas City, were represented.  

We were invited by none other than one of the Founders of BPA, an Arizonan Les Morris, to attend.

—-Beverely Elliott, Executive Director


B.L.A.C.  Blue Lotus Artists’ Collective (B.L.A.C.) is creating a DATABASE.

They are located in downtown Tucson, AZ, and are issuing a call for Black artists working in any media in order to build a database for their 2023 – 2024 exhibition schedule. 

Please submit a resume and/or artist statement, contact information, and up to ten images of artwork with identification to:   

Entry Deadline: August 31, 2023

Blue Lotus Artists’ Collective (B.L.A.C.)

15 E. Pennington Street             Tucson, AZ 85701

Instagram: @blac_tucson   /   520-400-4701

Supporting the Mission of HISTORY!

The City of Tucson, through a Certified Local Government Grant, has contracted with WestLand Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc. to conduct a city-wide survey of historic properties associated with Tucson’s African American community.

The first phase of the two-phase project is currently underway, and the intent of the first phase is to provide an inventory and database of Tucson’s surviving properties (buildings, structures, sites, and landscapes) built prior to 1978 that are associated with our African American Community. The inventory will serve as an informational and management tool to identify and preserve Tucson’s African American resources as well as provide a strategy to prioritize and identify areas for further study.

If you have information about Tucson’s African American historic properties or have any questions about WestLand’s data gathering and research, please feel free to reach out to either Jennifer Levstik at or Kathryn McKinney at

Pop-up museum with GEICO

On June 14th, our museum advisory member Tina Jonson and interns (Emma, Melora, and Jenny) presented for the museum and introduced a pop-up museum for Geico associates to visit during their breaks and lunches. We value this partnership opportunity and look forward to future collaborations.

GEICO’s FastPitch campaign allows all associates to propose ideas that benefit the local community. We are thrilled to have been included in the “GEICO Fast Pitch Program.”

We want to express our gratitude to Veron Chapple and Michael Espino for inviting us to participate. Additionally, we would like to thank Larry Starks, the president of the Tucson Juneteenth Festival, for delivering a remarkable presentation on the history of Juneteenth in Tucson. 

Website by AAMSAZ

Logo Design by Felicia Penza

Please note: No photos and no videos.
Museum Location
  • Museum is located on the Campus of the University of Arizona
    Student Union Room 244

    (1303 E University Blvd, Tucson, AZ 85719)
    Park in the 2nd Street Garage

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Copyright © , African American Museum of Southern Arizona. All Rights Reserved. No image, sound or text from this site can be used without the expressed written permission of the museum’s Board of Directors.