Black Firemen in San Antonio’s Past




Research into San Antonio’s Black Firemen is quite interesting and may be surprising to many. What I have discovered is concerned with black fire companies 3 and 4 as they were called, and is designed to encourage more in depth analysis of their origins, the individual firemen, and the socio-political climate during the era in question. We do know that the first organized black firemen and the first black police officers was the result of the Reconstruction politics of Governor E.J. Davis, a man hated by the former slave owners. The sources where one may find this important information is included in records at the Bexar County Courthouse and included in a section of the PhD Thesis by Kenneth Mason titled, Paternal Continuity: African-Americans and Race Relations in San Antonio, Texas 1867-1937. One can also find information about these early black firemen in Austin at various libraries and research institutions.  Also, some web research was compiled from the City of San Antonio and from an article by Shirley Lerner at Finding out things like this is often hard work.


         One must know that after the civil war a radical Reconstruction Governor named E.J. Davis was in control of the governor’s office in Texas. He appointed people to register blacks to vote and commissioned the first black police officers in the state of Texas around 1867. This was way before the San Antonio Police Department was formed. Black police officers patrolled the streets of San Antonio and other cities in Texas causing racists to burn up inside their minds. Even before Reconstruction and during slavery black firemen were working in San Antonio often to the dismay of racialzed whites that wanted every aspect of white life to remain within the realm of white supremacy.


              According to Shirley F. Lerner, “The saga of the ‘colored’ volunteer fire companies is a significant addition to the history of Reconstruction and its aftermath in San Antonio. Since volunteer fire companies enjoyed considerable prestige and political influence, it is likely that local blacks were attempting to acquire these goals by organizing fire companies. Little is known about these groups because the general population in the city resented and ignored them. At the time of their inception, the two original fire companies were struggling to re-organize. Some felt the newly established black brigades were a detriment to the re-building of the Milam and Alamo Companies. Nevertheless, the two black volunteer organizations remained long after Reconstruction's end. In 1873, seven years after its founding, a charter was granted Fire Company No.3 during Mayor Giraud's administration. This action is significant because it shows that the white community had accepted some black progress. Perhaps a few of the councilmen had formed political ties with the black community. From then on, however, City Council records and newspaper articles make little mention of Fire Company No. 3.”


         I also discovered that the Mayor Giraud mentioned in this quote above owned a slave auction house in San Antonio being one of several Sam Antonio mayors engaged in the horrid institution of slavery. Lerner further states that, “The idea that there were political ties between the black volunteers and some white leaders is furthered by the fact that company’s No. 3 and No. 4 selected two prominent whites to represent them when City Council elected a fire chief in 1878. J.H. Kampmann, a well-known businessman and alderman, was chosen by Co. No.3 and Edward Braden, a government contractor and future chief of Co. No.1, was selected by Co. No.4. It is true that negative attitude toward blacks disallowed their rightful self-representation in the election, but obvious political ties with important urban leaders permitted some recognition by the white community.” Much of this history has been ignored as it has been the desire to hide the problems of racism in our society and to remove the history of blacks from white minds and black minds alike.


         Often, whites were told how great their ancestors were. This was done with incomplete stories about the role of their ancestors in the brutal savagery of slavery. Whites were often told that their great grandfathers, and great-great grandfathers, were civic leaders, farmers, and entrepreneurs engaged in the great work of building society. What whites are generally not told, even by relatives, are the circumstances under which their relatives became successful. Often their success came about as a result of  segregation, murder, and the enslavement of African Americans. This is the reason why black history is in fact American history, and should not be separated out as if it was inconsequential to the total development of this country, state, and city.  

Every social studies book, in every chapter, at every level of education, should be filled with black history.


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