San Antonio is a city steeped in history. From the Missions to the Majestic Theater, Samuel Maverick to Henry Cisneros, there are countless stories of people, places and events that have helped bring us to where we are today.
But for decades, much of our city’s Black history has not been told. In this episode of KSAT Explains, we look at why those elements of our city’s past are so important — no matter your background — and how it could influence the future.
(Watch the full episode in the video player above. Check out our podcast on why we chose to expand on this topic below.)
Hidden in plain sight
It’s no secret that for decades, the success of the city’s Black leaders and historical figures have not been taught properly in schools.
We are all familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the basics of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but there is a treasure trove of little known Black history in San Antonio.
“If you’re not teaching the importance of African-American contributions, Hispanic contributions, women contributions to the general audience of public school students and university students, then you’re not giving them a range of dignity that should be afforded to all of humanity,” said Mario Marcel Salas, local historian and former UTSA political science professor and city councilman.
From the arrival of the Canary Islanders in what is now San Antonio, to the woman who helped establish a historically Black college on the East Side, the success stories are hidden in plain sight.
We take a closer look at these stories and how the Black community consistently played crucial roles in local and state history.
There are efforts being made statewide to unearth more of the Black history that helped shape Texas and the Alamo City.
Tuesdae Knight, President and CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the East Side or SAGE, points to the importance of having representation when discussing Black history.
“A lot of the mainstream media, a lot of movies, art, no matter what it can be, you often don’t see yourself portrayed in those,” Knight said.
The San Antonio African-American Community Archive and Museum, or SAACAM, is working to change that in our city.
“We have to be mindful of the fact that this country is made up of many different ethnicities. And the country is great because of the contributions of so many different types of people,” said Kenneth Stewart, SAACAM archivist.
We look at why this effort is not just for Black San Antonians, but important for our entire community.
How East Side became home to San Antonio’s Black community
The East Side’s history dates back centuries. Historians say that in the 1700s, nearly a third of the first Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands were Black. But they were not treated as equals in the eyes of the Spaniards, and they were separated by racial lineage.
“The San Antonio River was the first line of segregation in the history of San Antonio,” said Salas. “If you are dark-skinned, you are Native American, you are dark-skinned Mexican, you had to live on the eastern side of the river.”
During Reconstruction in the 1860s, segregation forced many Black San Antonians to create their own communities. Many historic East Side churches also became safe havens as racial tensions in the south were high.
“After slavery is over and you look for leaders it’s the church that becomes that space that can bring people together,” said Dr. Carey Latimore, Assoc. Professor of History at Trinity University. “And so many of the leaders, the first political leaders were were ministers or deacons because these are people that have the ability to read, people who had the ability to write. They were literate. They were in a position where they had the authority to speak.”
The 1920s to the 1960s was a pivotal era in the evolution of the East Side, from the founding of San Antonio’s NAACP chapter, to the birth of many leaders in the Black community. We examine this time period and it’s place in San Antonio’s history.
The Black Lives Matter movement in context of history
When it comes to Black history, we are living in a moment right now that history will likely remember.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been around for years, but a nationwide spotlight was placed on the push for equality last summer after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a series of incidents in which Black people were killed by law enforcement.
There have been marches and protests, but when we look back at this moment years from now, what role will could it play in the larger civil rights story?