“Sambos” Were Available
Over time, one of the major and consistent complaints against some African American ministers has been their close association with whites who opposed radical black demands. In 1931, the Depression was a major economic blow to the African American community of San Antonio. San Antonio community activist, the late John Inman, told me once that people often went door to door asking for “tortillas” to keep from starving. The depression caused major layoffs of public school employees, and those not laid off had their salaries reduced. It was during this period that racist SAISD school board members sought to maintain separate educational systems.
According to the SAISD files, and the Register of October of 1931, white folk opposed the building of a new Black public school, near the downtown area, because its location would allow black children to walk past the homes of white residents. Whites who stereotyped blacks often complained that African American children were “thieves and noisy.” Valmo Bellinger, the son of political boss Charles Bellinger, opposed the building of Wheatley school at the corner of North Givers and Gabriel Streets because the site was “near the Southern Pacific lines,” and was in an area that flooded. Valmo Bellinger accused some black leaders of giving in to white racism by moving the new public school to the present site of Wheatley Middle School.
Building homes and schools in areas that flood, or on top of garbage dumps, has often been a favorite money hungry ploy by white developers. This is what they did in Willow Wood and Meadow View. Both areas were near a toxic dump and in a flood plain. Often these areas were touted as” Black Middle Class areas,” but a closer look reveals that racism went into building at these sites. Find an older black middle class neighborhood in any town, and you will find a flood plane, a railroad track, a creek, or a garbage dump nearby.
Valmo Bellinger did not want to have black children “exposed to the ravages of pneumonia, and other diseases by wading through seas of mud and water to get to school.” Lamar Street, on the Eastside of San Antonio, named after a famous racist, and a block from the former Wheatley High School, was one such street. It was unpaved, and was like a raging river all the way into the 1960s. Various “Sambo” leaders, as they would come to be known by, opposed Bellinger and tried to assure whites that blacks should not listen to Bellinger. It the minds of racist whites this thought prevailed, “Build it in a flood plane; these Negroes don’t know any better.” According to Mason, a Reverend G.F.C Curry demanded that blacks opposed to building in a flood plane quiet down, and accept white leadership on this issue. Reverend G.F.C. Curry was quoted in the San Antonio Register, on page six and page thirteen of the November 1931 issue as saying, “white folks is white folks, and what they want, they are going to have.”
The community opposed Rev. Curry however, and was blasted by Valmo Bellinger as one of the “half-wits,” and was “either imbued with an inferiority complex or is paid for his remarks by somebody higher up.” Then Bellinger really slapped Curry, by referring to Reverend G.F.C. Curry as one of the “Sambo preachers.” Unfortunately, Phyllis Wheatley High School was finally built in a flood plane. Valmo Bellinger would become an important political figure by rallying the masses against what he called “Sambo preachers.” Bellinger would not keep his status however. He would be accused of being a “Sambo” as well in later years.
The pitiful financial resources given to the Black community for education forced Dunbar Junior High on the Westside to close, and Mason reported that, “Lack of improvements at Douglas Junior High resulted in the collapse of bleachers that claimed the life of one girl during an outdoor basketball game.” Reverend G.F.C. Curry attempted to root out the militant demands by black educators for another public school by meeting separately with school officials. The white elite pulled another “Sambo” out of the bag by calling on Dr. James Walton, an interim NAACP president, to harass black teachers by setting up a system of political snitches in the schools that, according to Mason, “rushed news to influential whites” about who the trouble makers were.
All of this would eventually lead to a teachers strike at St. Phillips College in April of 1932. The community would find itself divided by those wishing to apologize to the white elite for black protest. These “Sambos” would pit themselves against radical progressive blacks like John Inman and G.J. Sutton for money or favors from the white power structure.