Racism East of the River
From the very beginning, San Antonio’s black community has shaped the city’s history. In celebrating our 300th anniversary, it is important that we revisit these beginnings and analyze how the San Antonio we know today came to be. No history is ever complete, but knowing the diverse tapestry of San Antonio’s origins is ever-important. To this end and in the celebration of the Tricentennial, we must take a close look at the black community’s contributions to San Antonio for much is unknown to the general public. It was all about “East of the River” in the past.
East of the San Antonio River is where it all started for blacks in San Antonio. Canary Islanders who arrived in San Antonio in the 1700s included white Spaniards and Black Christianized Moors. This is noted in Kenneth Mason’s 1997 research, and in the actual manifest documents, which provide evidence that darker-skinned Canary Islanders – people of color quebrado, or broken color – were forced to live east of the river. The San Antonio River served as the borderline of segregation during this period, establishing racial spaces and oppressive boundaries. That is how the Eastside became the black section of town and the future home to San Antonio’s African-American community. Segregation east of the river set in motion the establishment of the Baptist Settlement in later years just South and East of the San Antonio River. In Canary Islander records, blacks were described as having “Blobber” lips, and having dark complexion and curly hair in Canary Islander records.
Thus, San Antonio’s historic eastside became black because of the black Moorish heritage that was destined to be promoted east of the San Antonio River. Before the Texas settlers came to the area it is apparent that blacks lived here in larger numbers than is evident today. These numbers far exceeded the 8-9% black population that we see today. There is evidence that the black, mulatto, and African-Mexican population may have been as high as 28% at one time in San Antonio’s past. Associated with Spaniard “color schemes” the Mexican American population was morphed into “whiteness” at various times. In the 1900s, birth records in San Antonio erroneously labeled Mexican Americans, Afro Mexicans, and Afro Mestizos as white. At times, even those with dark-skin, and with distinct black features, were labeled white if their surname was Hispanic.. Ironically, many Spanish surnames are not Hispanic in origin, such as Medina, Alvarez, or Rodriguez (with an ez ending), and are actually Arabic or black Moorish as a result of the Moorish conquest of Spain for over 700 years. Other Spanish surnames such as Moreno, Prieto, and many others point to a West African ancestry.
East of the River, and after the Civil War, Blacks were lynched in San Antonio, but the preferred tactic was legal lynching. This often took the form of blacks being charged with striking a police officer, raping white women, or being accused of killing a white person. It also involved arresting blacks in the military that were often were jeered and accused of coming to the aid of fellow black citizens who was being brutalized by white police officers or groups of whites roaming Bexar County during Reconstruction. In fact, various racist groups organized in San Antonio under the leadership of Samuel Maverick. The KKK was organized in 1868 in the city and was determined to undermine Reconstruction. According to Express News accounts of 1868, during Reconstruction, armed gangs of white racists roamed Bexar County in an attempt to keep blacks from voting. East of the river is where segregation and racism began.