Panoramic View of San Antonio, Texas, , Haines Photo Co., American Memory, Library of Congress
The San Antonio story of segregation
Click here for a general overview of Jim Crow.
San Antonio offers a unique history of Jim Crow and its consequences within a city. Three factors contributed to this unusual situation. First, San Antonio is situated on the outer limits of the southern states. A difference existed between the southeast and the southwest with its treatment of blacks. Second, the black population in San Antonio has always been a relatively small percent of the total population. The black population seldom reaches above the single digits of the total population. Third, the presence of Mexican Americans created an additional group of people that had to fit into a segregated environment. Other cities in the south did not need to address this issue (1).
Although segregation took a different path in San Antonio, the city still remained in the South and for the most part followed the laws of the state. The Constitutional Convention of 1866 is perhaps a good place to start. At the convention, the delegates deemed it necessary to segregate rail cars. One representative went as far to say that all blacks should be banned from the state (2). Over the years, more and more laws were passed that split the population based on race and that considered blacks as second class citizens.
Blacks in San Antonio were second class citizens. Their predicament, however, was better than most southern blacks. For much of the twentieth century, a black political machine existed in the city that garnered favors for the black community in exchange for votes. The black population in return received such benefits as street lighting, plumbing, and schools (3). For the rest of the black south, these improvements were nonexistent.
On the other hand, similarities did connect San Antonio to the rest of the South. Blacks were kept out of many civil service jobs. For example, San Antonio’s two black fire companies were disbanded by 1888. Black firemen were not to be seen again in the city until 1967 (4). The exception here would be black policemen in San Antonio. Blacks were often in charge of patrolling black neighborhoods. Mayor Maury Maverick, however, did exclude blacks from entering the police force for two years during his term in office (5). Oddly enough, he was considered a liberal by his time.
Two unique stories from San Antonio.
The people of San Antonio often were more concerned with social stability than focusing on segregation itself. Early in the twentieth century black soldiers caused a local disturbance when they failed to obey a Jim Crow law related to street cars. The coverage of the event was at best splotchy.
An exception to maintaining social stability, was the white primary as it became a controversial issue in the state of Texas. At the center of the dispute was Bexar County. For decades, the white primary would be an issue in San Antonio.
Talking about strife between the races.
“Well, it was a little more in some areas, I mean, like the big cities like Dallas and Houston. And we didn’t have that much here in San Antonio, because we had a small Black population.”
- Harry Burns (6)
“Well, the Mexican Americans were struggling themselves at that time, to acquire political power; and so as a results, in some areas there was some real opposition between the Mexican American and the blacks…”
- Harry Burns (7)
Photo, Jackie Napolean Wilson Co., J. Paul Getty Museum
“…when I grew up there were no black firemen. While there were black policemen, there were no black firemen. And I might mention the fact that also black policemen were not permitted, really, to arrest white people.”
- Reverend Claude Black (8)
This Webpage was created by Chad Updegrove.
(1) Robert A. Goldberg, “Racial Change on the Southern Periphery: The Case of San Antonio, Texas, 1960-1965,” The Journal of Southern History 49 (Aug. 1983): 350.
(2) Alwyn Barr, Black Texas: A History of Negroes in Texas 1528-1971 (Austin, TX: 1973), 42.
(3) Alwyn Barr, “Bellinger, Charles,” The Handbook of Texas Online. [http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/BB/fbe74.html], June 17, 2003.
(4) Anonymous, San Antonio Fire Department History (Paducah, KY: 2000), 25.
(5) Judith K. Doyle, “Maury Maverick and Racial Politics in San Antonio, Texas, 1938-1941,” The Journal of Southern History 53 (May 1987): 211.
(6) Harry V. Burns interviewed by Cheri Wolfe, Aug. 9, 1994, Institute of Texas Cultures Library, San Antonio, TX.
(7) Burns interview.
(8) Claude W. Black interviewed by Sterli Holmesly, May 26, 1994, Institute of Texas Cultures Library, San Antonio, TX.