Oral History Project:
Autobiographical Stories of Women From Chandler as Told to CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
Oral History of Bea McFadden
Written by:Linsay Scott

Bea McFadden Interviewed by Lindsay Scott On October 10, 2004

The story of Bea McFadden begins here in Chandler. Willy Beatrice Jackson (called Bea) was born to Ernest and Josephine Jackson, June 9, 1938, in Watonga, Oklahoma. Her parents moved to Chandler when she was six months old. Her father's family had located to Arizona in 1936. Her grandparents worked the land at a cotton gin on the Goodson farm, near what is now Germann Road. Being African American, there was not a whole lot of choice for work; farm labor was one of the only types of work that was available for African Americans in those days. Bea’s family worked and lived on the land where cotton sold for three dollars per hundred pounds of cotton picked. She remembers her family trying to make nine dollars a day and struggling to make ends meet.

Her father quit school with only a third grade education to help make money for the family. However, he was inquisitive and bright, and he eventually became a janitor for a chemical lab here in Chandler. This was considered to be a top job for African Americans in the 1950’s. This did not satisfy his spirit though. He became interested in the chemical processes of the lab. Mr. Gene, the director and a white man, took a keen interest in her father by giving him books to take home to read. Bea's father educated himself by reading the books and eventually became the director of the chemical lab, a position he held until his retirement. This set an example to Bea that anything is possible when hard work and determination are involved.

Mrs. McFadden attended elementary school at Ocotillo School here in Chandler in the 1950's. She recalls a small school with only two teachers responsible for all eight grades in the entire school. During the 1950s, the schools in Chandler were segregated, so she was bused along with other African American children to the Ocotillo School. Her poor foundation for education continued to motivate her desire for education throughout her life. She felt embarrassed that she did not have the same educational background as the other kids who attended Chandler High School with her. Bea knew that education was the only way to escape an impoverished life. She worked not only for her grades; she was dealing with social reform as well. She attended Chandler High in 1952 after it was integrated in 1949. This proved to be a difficult task. She recalls having very few if any white friends and feeling somewhat isolated within her own school. She recalls being the only African American girl in her grade. Bea remembers being in drivers education when the class stopped at the drug store to purchase drinks from the soda fountain. Bea had to remain in the car because the store did not serve African Americans. These experiences continued to shape her into a motivated and hard working young woman.

Bea remembers some other instances of racism in her life. As a young girl, Bea travelled to visit her grandparents in Texas. On a bus heading for El Paso, Texas, her family was forced to move to the back of the bus when white passengers boarded. However, she spoke of social ignorance as an even greater injustice than racism. She explained that when you do not know any better, it is hard to recognize the injustice of it. Experiences of the tumultuous time when she was in high school merely shaped her motivation; it did not damper her spirit.

After finishing high school, Bea wanted to go to college. Bea knew from an early age that education was the only way to escape an impoverished life. This was somewhat unheard of. At the time, her mother did not support the idea, for they did not have the finances to pay for tuition. In the late 50's Arizona State College, ( as it was called then) cost fifty dollars a semester. Without the modern day benefit of financial aid, Bea struggled to find money for college. Her determination and spirit could not be squashed however, so she went down and registered for school anyway. As the deadline for tuition loomed, Bea relied on her faith in God to get her through. In the final hour, an aunt, who had five children of her own, gave her the money for her first semester of college. Bea’s mother, Josephine Jackson, worked for the Bogle family at the time and Mrs. Dorothy Bogle paid Bea's tuition for four years to go to college. Bea is very grateful to the Bogle family for the greatest gift they could have given her.

College was a dream come true for Bea. There were not many African American students at Arizona State. She was one of the only African American students from Chandler; the rest were from Phoenix. She studied education mainly because there were not many other opportunities for women. Teaching was an appropriate career. She earned good grades and studied hard. She had a teacher who became a mentor and showed her how to give proper lectures, do lesson plans and be successful in life. It was here that Bea realized that she would have to be smarter and harder working than other white people in her field in order to be taken seriously. To this day, Bea fondly remembers her teacher and how she took a chance on a poor African American girl, showing her the path to greatness.

Bea’s personal life began in college as well. She met her husband, Bob McFadden, in college. She was married in her mid twenties, in the mid sixties. After graduating with a teaching degree, they moved to the L.A., California. Here she taught school and honed her teaching skills. Bea also started her own family of two sons. Her husband got a job transfer that took the family to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bea went back to school and got another degree in social work. She began working for the City of Minneapolis for Community Action as a social worker. Her job was in energy assistance; she helped clients with grants to pay their energy bills. She also dealt with the city’s winter coat program. Being so cold in the area, the city organized a program to get coats to children who could not afford them. She then became a supervisor in the social work division of the city of Minneapolis. It was here that she developed a bridge to connecting her teaching skills with that of social work.

In 1990, Bea began noticing a trend in her social work department. She noticed that the women who were coming in to receive state funded assistance kept coming back for some reason or another. These women could not seem to get a hold on their lives. Bea recognized the sadness and despair in their faces and the abused look in their eyes. She sent some women up for immediate mental help while struggling to find a way to help them. Money was not the only thing these women needed. They needed to learn self love and respect. Bea went to the city board with a program that she had written to help women get off of public assistance. This program started out a two year program and was later cut down to only a year.

This women’s program was approved and Bea began to hold seminars. She noticed that the women had been so badly abused mentally and physically that they developed self hate. So, she started with psychological help. Bit by bit she helped give these women dignity. Many of the women in her program were left alone with children to care for and many had never held a job in their lives. Bea’s program helped women gain self respect and discover that it was possible to support their own families. She recalls that these women were so full of self hate that none could think of five things that they liked about themselves. Through motivational speaking and guidance, she found a way to bridge the gap from self hate to self love. It is an amazing accomplishment she was able to give so many women hope, confidence, and a fresh start in life. There were a lot of successes for the women, as many went back to school and received training and degrees; they were able to become self-sufficient.

Bea also provided the same techniques for the children of these women. Bea felt that by reaching the children she could start to break the cycle. Bea continued this program for ten years before her retirement.

Bea retired about four years ago and returned to the warm weather of Arizona, a place that she never thought that she would end up. She felt that it was her time to leave. Bea is a recovered breast cancer survivor and suffers from a condition called Fibromyalgia. This medical condition causes her exhaustion. Though she received cancer treatment and was frequently ill while still working, she always gave one hundred percent to her job. Bea never let illness be her excuse for not giving her all. She became involved in breast cancer seminars and was asked to travel and speak of her experiences.

Speaking with Bea now, it is clear that no matter how much success she had professionally, her boys, Rodney and Garrick, are clearly her “angels.” At one point in her life, she thought it impossible to have kids and looks at her children as gifts from God. As a working mother, she had normal struggles of balancing family and work. She was determined to make sure that her sons received better education and opportunity than she did. She helped them study, quizzed them and encouraged both of them to go to college. Her oldest son is now a doctor of internal medicine in Minneapolis and her younger son is a lawyer here in Tempe. Both sons were scouted by great schools and received scholarships for their educations. It is evident that she helped the evolution of education within her own family. Bea’s life started out with a father who had a third grade education and now her sons both have post baccalaureate educations.

Currently, Bea resides here in Chandler with her husband. She is working on a book about the pioneer African American families who settled in the Chandler area. She recognizes the importance that their stories be told. Today, at sixty four years of age, Bea has an incredible amount of wisdom and life experience behind her. Her mother is in her nineties and is also living in Chandler. Bea never really thought that she would retire here, but she is able to shed some light on the experiences of the early African American people in Chandler.

Bea is happy to see the evolution of society, particularly women. She looks at the young women today as lucky to have the chance to be educated, independent and limitless in their opportunities. Bea still considers education the key to unlocking the door to everything. Bea has overcome racial and health problems and has fought for educational opportunities. Her hard work has changed the course of many women's lives and raised two successful sons. She is an inspiration that effort and determination equal success. She is truly an inspiration and a living example of the power within ourselves.

Photos courtesy of the family.

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