African American Barbers and Porters
Five family members,
buried in Rosedale and City Loosley
The Belt Cook family were African Americans who lived in Phoenix from 1887 on.
Belt Cook was a light-skinned mulatto, born between 1845 and December 1846 in Maryland. Around 1866, he married Rebecca Hall, who had been born in Pennsylvania. He and Rebecca had fifteen children, nine of whom lived to adulthood.
The birthplaces of the Cook children show that the family moved back and forth across the country between 1869 and 1887, living in Nevada and California before finally coming to Arizona. Since Belt and his son Charles were barbers and one of Belt’s sons-in-law was a porter, they may have been employed by the railroads or simply followed the railroads west.
Belt Cook’s skill as a barber made it possible for him to find employment readily. In 1869, the family was living in Austin, Nevada, in a mixed race community with other porters, skilled craftsmen and even lawyers as neighbors. By 1873, the family was in Los Angeles, California.
1881 saw the Cook family residing in the boom town of Globe, Arizona. However, as placer mining gave way to large-scale operations like the Old Dominion mine, Globe reverted to the status of a small frontier town, and the Cooks moved on to Phoenix in 1887.
The Cook children seem to have received a good education for the times. In 1900, son Elias Belt Cook was a member of the McKinley Club, a political organization of prominent colored men.
No matter their position in the community, though, the Cooks were still subject to the illnesses of the day. Daughter Eva died in 1894 of what was probably meningitis. Charles’s wife Lola succumbed to tuberculosis in 1897. Daughter Lillie passed away in 1902, and son William Thomas died of tuberculosis in 1909. All are buried in the Pioneer & Military Memorial Cemetery, as is Belt Cook’s older brother Elias.
Entries in a 1912 city directory show Belt Cook as a barber at 20 North 2nd Street. Charles was a barber just a few blocks away at 3 East Jefferson. By 1920, Belt and Rebecca were retired and living with their eldest son John.
Belt Cook died February 28, 1929, and Rebecca died in 1933. They, as well as their son Elias, are buried in Greenwood Cemetery. At least one of their surviving daughters, Mary Elizabeth Cook Roberts, was still living in Phoenix when she passed away in 1953.
© 2021 by Donna L. Carr. Last revised 24 February 2021.
To obtain a copy of the sources used for this article, please contact the PCA to make a suggested donation.
Free graphic courtesy of ClipArt Library