Black in Arizona: Wealth
In this episode, meet a culinary legend in Arizona’s Black community and the grandson who followed in her footsteps. We’ll also introduce one of the earliest Black businesspeople in Arizona. This is the story of three entrepreneurs who became successful when it seemed nearly impossible for Black Arizonans to carve out a place in business.
On the last day of 1962, Elizabeth White packed her bags and moved to Phoenix, Arizona to help her brother at his restaurant, “Church Cafe.” During a time when Americans were moving West and settling into new lives in a growing city, Mrs. White, as she’s more widely known, opened her cafe, “Golden Rule,” where night workers were her first customers. Ms. White says the restaurant became popular via word of mouth, with the regulars not just enjoying Mrs. White’s cooking but also her warm presence. They started calling the restaurant, “Mrs. White’s Golden Rule,” giving the restaurant the name it has today.
“Mrs. White’s Golden Rule” is located on 8th Street and Jefferson, well established as a staple in the community. With a dash of compassion, she’s been satisfying locals’ cravings through homemade catfish, fried chicken and oxtail for more than fifty years.
Larry White Jr.
But that’s not the end of the story. Year after year, Mrs. White’s grandson, Larry White Jr., would spend time with her when he was a child. He would see his grandmother cooking yams, collard greens, fried chicken and cleaning chitlins. White says he remembers thinking, “Oh, I know how to cook!” But he never wanted to go into the restaurant business because he saw how hard his grandmother and father worked every day.
After graduating high school, White started an independent record label in Los Angeles in 1992. After late-night recording sessions, the crew would find themselves at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles where White fell in love with the sweet and savory flavors. He found that when the crew was at the recording studio in Phoenix, they craved Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. So White went home, cooked up his grandmother’s pancake recipe and made fried chicken.
After his colleague’s approval of his food, White reached out to his grandmother for permission to use her pancake recipe to open the very first Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles in an 800-square-foot brick-and-mortar building that opened to the public in 2002.
Lincoln Ragsdale Sr. and Lincoln Ragsdale Jr.
When Lincoln Ragsdale Sr. moved to Arizona, he served as a Tuskegee airman, part of a group looking to integrate Luke Air Force Base to see if integration would work in the armed forces.
Although Ragsdale didn’t have much, he saved his money, enough to purchase a lot off of 1100 E. Jefferson Street. He was unable to buy property north of Van Buren at the time due to his race.
Ragsdale decided to build a funeral home and continue his family’s legacy as funeral home owners. The Ragsdale name has been connected to funeral homes as far back as 1896. In order to open the funeral home, he went to numerous banks to borrow money, but none would allow it.
Ragsdale Jr. explains that as his father left a bank, one gentleman told him, “Lincoln Ragsdale, I just want to let you know this bank will never ever let you borrow any money.”
Architect E. Harry Herrscher had other plans. He loaned Ragsdale Sr. $35,000 dollars to build a funeral home, the only caveat being that Herrscher would design the building. Herrscher gave Ragsdale Sr. 15 years to pay him back; he was able to do it in 10.
Ragsdale Jr. explains that being a Black businessman in Arizona is, “one of the hardest jobs in America because you don’t have support,” especially at the time his family started because of the lack of bank support. Ragsdale Jr. says, “You aren’t in the room where the deals are made, and obviously they were not interested in helping Black people. You are forced to stay within a realm which the people of power will let you move within.”