Arbuckle Family

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    The Ona Virgil and Emma Jean Jackson Arbuckle family originated in Oklahoma, arriving in the Chandler area in 1937. They first lived in tents at the Goodson farm near McQueen and Chandler Heights roads. The Arbuckles provided domestic work and picked cotton, where they earned 75 cents for every 100 pounds gathered. Ona died in 1940, from arsenic poisoning. Emma Jean, born in Texas in 1903, left the Goodson farm and moved to the Southside neighborhood. She recalls, “I had four children and a three-week-old baby … I had to leave the farm, and I came into Chandler, and I worked for George Frye.” They rented a home on Saragosa Street. Emma passed on a strong work ethic to her children, setting an example by working tirelessly as a domestic for wealthy Chandler families -- making just enough money to pay for rent, wood and water. She says, “We really just existed.” During the fall and Christmas holidays, she would send the children to various fields to pick cotton.

    Today, a park in Chandler is named after Emma. She was known as “Miss Emma,” or “Dr. Arbuckle,” because of the home remedies that she provided to care for her neighbors. She was a determined and strong-willed single mother, who, despite her third grade education, became a leader and mother figure in the local African-American community. She was also a midwife. After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died, she channeled the African-American community‘s emotion into a solidarity march. She was a member of the United Way, Chandler Historical Society, and the Pentecost Church. As an early member of the Chandler Housing Authority Board, she helped create a housing program for low-income families. The State of Arizona awarded her the outstanding citizen award in 1970; it was well-deserved. She passed away in 1988 at the age of 85.

    In a 1985 interview, Emma recalled some of the food she prepared for her family. She said, “Wages were cheap, and we bought pinto beans and corn meal. I fed them the pinto beans and corn meal every night. And, we had biscuits every once in a while.” She remembers that her sons fed the Frye family’s animals, and in return, Etta Frye provided them with a chicken every Saturday, which Emma cooked for Sunday dinner. She also described the “hoecakes” she prepared. “You’d squeeze off a piece of the dough -- about like that -- and roll it into a ball and put it in a skillet and mash it down, and when it browned, we called it a hoecake, and we had it for breakfast with syrup.” Emma cooked many meals and desserts for her family over the years: 

    Willie Arbuckle, Emma’s second youngest son, writes, “There were four of us children: Winona Virgil, James Walter, me (Willie Eugene) and Joella Amanda Ferne. My youngest brother, George, was born in Arizona. One story of my family and the Jimmie Turner family gets lost in history, I believe. The story is of the integration of Chandler High School. In 1949, Robert Turner, his sister, Artie Mae, my sister Joella, and I were the first four African-Americans to attend Chandler High School. In 1951, Robert Turner and I were the first two African-Americans to graduate from Chandler High School.” The Arbuckle siblings provided some recipes of their own:

    Ona Arbuckle.jpg
    Ona Arbuckle
    Emma Williw and Gladys Arbuckle.jpg
    Emma, Willie and Gladys Arbuckle in Southside
    Willie Arbuckle Family.jpg
    Willie and Gladys Arbuckle with their children
    George 1953.jpg
    George Arbuckle, 1953
    Winona Arbuckle.jpg
    Winona Arbuckle Woods
    Apple Crunch
    Fluffy Biscuits
    Cinnamon Rolls
    Fried Whole Kernel Corn Dish
    Lemon Cake
    Seven Layer Salad


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