Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement in Arizona back during the late 1940s when they helped found Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity.
Lincoln Ragsdale was instrumental in various reform efforts in the Valley, including voting rights and the desegregation of schools, neighborhoods, and public accommodations. He was born on July 27, 1927 to mortician Hartwell Ragsdale and schoolteacher Onlia Violet Ragsdale in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and subsequently grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
After graduating high school in 1944, the new Tuskegee Airmen, a corps of black military pilots in World War II, appealed to Ragsdale interest in flying and in racial equality. He later remarked that he enlisted to refute the popular notion that blacks could not successfully fly planes. Trained at Tuskegee Army Air Corps Field in Alabama in 1945, he became part of the US Army’s early integration effort.
After the war, Ragsdale went on to settle in Phoenix in 1946, where he and his brother Hartwell Ragsdale started a mortuary business, which was a traditional Ragsdale family profession. Ragsdale was initially unable to secure a loan, being rejected by all of the banks in town, until a stranger agreed to make a personal loan of $35,000 to start the business after hearing his story. This made Lincoln Ragsdale Phoenix’s first black funeral home owner in Arizona in 1948.
Ragsdale later graduated from the Arizona State University, and also received a doctorate in business administration from Union Graduate School. In 1949, he married Eleanor Ragsdale, a local schoolteacher at Dunbar Elementary School who became an important activist in her own right.
The Ragsdales were founding members of the Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity (GPCCU) in the late 1940s. One of Ragsdale’s first forays into civil rights action was in a case that touched both his military and mortuary careers. The Ragsdales made history in 1953 by moving into a home on West Thomas Road in the exclusive Encanto area north of the red line which separated the segregated white and black neighborhoods in Phoenix. In that era, blacks were excluded from home ownership in north of the neighborhoods along Van Buren Street by banks who refused them loans for such houses and real estate agents who refused to show the houses to blacks.