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BULLEThistory archive
History Archive Photo
Pope John Paul II visited Phoenix in 1987.

© Arizona State Archives

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Editor's Note:
In February 2012, Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood, and Arizona Highways will publish a special Centennial issue. Leading up to that milestone, we're presenting a 10-part history of the state. This is Part 8.
Arizona: 1982-1991
In Arizona's seventh decade of statehood, the plight of American farm workers took center stage in Phoenix, an investigative reporter was car-bombed in broad daylight, and Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Jana Bommersbach

Arizona was at the forefront of several national news stories between 1972 and 1981, some of them jubilant and some of them tragic.

Early in the decade, in 1972, the plight of American farm workers emerged as a national issue when Arizona-born Cesar Chavez fasted for 25 days at a Catholic church in downtown Phoenix. He was protesting a new law that prohibited farm-worker strikes or boycotts, and his sit-in brought to the city other national civil rights leaders. Ultimately, Chavez and Dolores Huerta founded the National Farm Worker's Association, which later became the United Farm Workers, a union dedicated to protecting the rights of farm workers nationwide.

About a year later, Metrocenter Mall opened in Phoenix. It featured five anchor department stores, making it the largest shopping mall in the nation at the time. Around the same time, in an effort to prove that "big" wasn't limited to commercial projects, the citizens of Phoenix overwhelmingly approved $24 million to create the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, which was touted as one of the nation's most ambitious city preservation efforts.

Things got even bigger in 1974, when construction began on the Central Arizona Project, a massive canal system that delivers Colorado River water to Central and Southern Arizona. That same year, Congress set off a tremendous culture clash when it called for the partitioning of tribal lands. Washington had stepped into the age-old conflict between the farming Hopis and the sheepherding Navajos, demanding the division of the Hopi Reservation, which resulted in the relocation of both tribes.

Although neither tribe was pleased with Washington, the federal government did make strides with the nearby Havasupai people. On January 3, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law that significantly increased the size of Grand Canyon National Park and the adjacent Havasupai Indian Reservation.

Arizona also experienced several "firsts" during this decade. In 1976, San Jose State University professor John Sperling created the University of Phoenix and, as a result, became a billionaire. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court used Bates v. State Bar of Arizona to strike down state laws and bar association rules that prohibited lawyers from advertising. In 1979, Mel Zuckerman and his wife, Enid, opened Canyon Ranch on an old dude ranch in Tucson. It was America's first total vacation and fitness resort, and today, it remains one of the nation's premier health spas.

But not all of the news out of Arizona was good. The national press rushed to Arizona in June 1976 when a car bomb took the life of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles. Although three men went to prison for the crime, the case was never fully solved. Another unsolved mystery was the 1978 murder of actor Bob Crane. The Hogan's Heroes star was bludgeoned to death in Scottsdale.

On the political front, Arizona showed off its diversity when Raul H. Castro became the state's first Mexican-American governor. That was in 1975. Later, President Jimmy Carter appointed Castro to be ambassador to Argentina. Native son Bruce Babbitt became governor in 1978 and proved himself a progressive leader, settling decades of debate over water use with the state's Groundwater Management Act in 1980.

Perhaps the proudest moment of the state's seventh decade occurred on July 7, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan announced his nomination of Arizona native Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court. O'Connor, who would become the first woman to hold such a position, was sworn in on September 24, 1981, after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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