The Power of Community: How Randolph, AZ used its History to fight for its Future
- Open to the public
Photo by Eric Ledermann, courtesy of the Arizona Faith Network.
An IHR Desert Humanities Event
In 2021, the Salt River Project (SRP), the largest provider of water and electricity in Central Arizona, made public its proposal to more than double the size of a gas-fired power plant just south of Coolidge. The plant stood next to the small, unincorporated town of Randolph and its expansion would have surrounded the town with industries on three sides. Randolph’s residents, many of whom live near or below the poverty line, organized against the expansion to prevent SRP from significantly increasing the amount of environmentally hazardous products that emanate from their power plants. Remarkably, in the summer of 2022, the Arizona Corporation Commission voted against the expansion. For the town’s residents, it was a “David vs. Goliath” victory -- a stunning moment in the town’s unique history.
Randolph was settled in the 1930s by families who moved west from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas to pick cotton in the Gila River Valley. Most of the early settlers were Black and they built a close-knit community based solely around cotton production. By the early 1960s, at the height of the town’s growth, Randolph boasted thriving stores, bars, churches and gas stations. Mechanization of the cotton industry in the 1960s and ‘70s, however, resulted in high unemployment rates and an exodus that sent many to California. When heavily polluting industries arrived to replace cotton production in the 1980s and ‘90s, Randolph and its people struggled not only economically, but environmentally as well. Markers of ill health continue to plague the town. Today, many of Randolph’s residents are descendants of the original families who settled the town and some even live in homes constructed during Randolph’s earliest years. Few places with such a unique history exist in the West today.
Hear from two of the town’s residents, Dorothy Wright and Ron Jordan, about their distinct place in Arizona history and how they used that community history to organize for their battle against a giant corporation. Steve Brittle, who has worked on environmental policy in Arizona for over 30 years and recently served as an advisor to Hon. Sandra Kennedy, will offer fascinating details about the case presented before the Corporation Commission last year. Rev. Dr. Warren Stewart, pastor of Phoenix’s First Institutional Baptist Church, will address the role of standing with communities like Randolph and helping them in their struggle against environmental injustice. Dr. Curtis Austin, an associate professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, will moderate the discussion.
If you have memories of Randolph that you would like to share, trained staff will be at this event to record and catalogue oral histories.
Dr. Curtis Austin, associate professor of History, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, ASU (moderator)
Dorothy Wright was born and raised in Randolph, AZ after her family moved from Arkansas to make a better life. She is a wife and a mother of 10 kids who also spent 17 years working in the CCA-Florence Correctional Center.
Ron Jordan is originally from Randolph, AZ, served in the U.S. Army, and eventually returned to Randolph to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Rev. Dr. Warren Stewart, senior pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church, Phoenix
Steve Brittle has over 30 years of experience in environmental and environmental justice issues in Arizona, and served as policy advisor for Corporation Commissioner Sandra Kennedy
Jason Bruner, Director, Desert Humanities Initiative
- Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict
- Arizona Interfaith Power and Light
- Arizona Faith Network
- School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS)