The Civil Rights Movement in San Antonio

Charlott McReynolds


While much of the Deep South was ensued in violence and turmoil over the issue of civil rights, San Antonio integrated relatively easy in comparison.  Many religious leaders in San Antonio encouraged voluntary integration, and in many instances, such as restaurants, business owners obliged (1).  This was especially true after the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v Board of Education. This is not to say that desegregation in San Antonio came without protest or picketing. Sit-in demonstrations occurred at Joske’s and the Majestic Theater. 

San Antonio did have segregation, through both custom and enforcement by the police department (2).  In the 1950’s, African Americans had their own parks, restrooms, drinking fountains, schools, and restaurants.  Public transportation and the theater, for example, were segregated.  Blacks were restricted to living in an overcrowded and decaying east side neighborhood.  They were also economically depressed with nearly 70 percent employed in semiskilled, unskilled, or domestic service jobs (3).     

Many reasons are attributed to San Antonio’s relatively peaceful desegregation, which included, presence of Mexican Americans, presence of the military, and the Clergy. The military and Clergy had examples of desegregation before they were required to by law.  During the 1950’s the military integrated its units, on-base schools, stores, and recreational facilities.  Likewise, in April of 1954 all parochial schools and two catholic colleges were integrated (4). 



San Antonio followed the example of four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina with its own lunch counter sit-ins.  With the leadership of Harry Burns and the Reverend Claude Black, lunch counter demonstrations were set to begin on March 17, 1960 if stores did not change their segregation policies.  Sit-ins did not happen because four blacks were served at a previously segregated restaurant on March 16th.  San Antonio became the first city to integrate its lunch counters (5).  There are several reasons attributed to the integration.  Representatives from Sears and Roebuck assured business owners that they would not loose business due to integration.  They had integrated their lunch counters in the 1950s and did not suffer a decline in business from white customers.  Another reason contributing to voluntary integration was the police department. The Chief of Police stated that police would not interfere with sit-in demonstrations unless they created a disturbance or became violent (6).

                The NAACP also contributed to San Antonio desegregating.  In the early days of the movement, their main goals were to end all white primaries, eradicate Jim Crow laws, and receive equal education for all students (7).  The NAACP would use the courts as their battleground.  They sought plaintiffs to challenge segregation of schools and voting discrimination laws (8).  Their method is another example of bringing about change through non-violent methods.  It is this reason that San Antonio could have served as a model for other cities during the Civil Rights Movement.   



2, 3, 5, 6 Goldberg, Robert A.  “Racial Changes on the Southern Periphery:  The Case of San Antonio, Texas, 1960-1965.”  The Journal of Southern History 49 (August 1983): 349-374

7, 8 San Antonio Express, April 1, 1955

1 San Antonio express, June 30, 1963

4 San Antonio Light, March 15, 1965


San Antonio Integration timeline

Civil Rights Timeline




US (7) History. The student understands the impact of the American civil rights movement. The student is expected to: B) identify significant leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr.;  (C) evaluate government efforts, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to achieve equality in the United States

US (17) Government. The student understands the impact of constitutional issues on American society in the 20th century. The student is expected to: (A) analyze the effects of 20th-century landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and Reynolds v. Sims;


Student Activity: Students will use the interview with Rev. Black on the ITC website to answer questions about his life and Civil Rights in San Antonio.


Students can also use the interview to write a play or public service announcement on the importance of tolerance.




Goldberg, Robert A.  “Racial Changes on the Southern Periphery:  The Case of San Antonio, Texas, 1960-1965.”  The Journal of Southern History 49 (August 1983): 349-374

San Antonio Express April 1, 1955

San Antonio Express June 30, 1963

San Antonio Express, Aug. 17, 1999

San Antonio Light, Oct. 4, 1963

San Antonio Light, March 15, 1965

Smithsonian: National Museum of American History [] June 27, 2003


Rev. Claude Black interviewed by Sterlin Holmesly, San Antonio, May 26, 1994, Institute of Texan Culture Library, San Antonio, TX.