Some History of Black Churches in San Antonio


After the Civil War white churches in San Antonio became very nervous about the prospect of having free African Americans invade their white only places of worship. According to Professor Kenneth Mason, slave owners often brought their slaves to church to wait on them, outside in the rain, but after emancipation whites did not want any blacks near their churches or even walking nearby. According to the Express newspaper of May 21, 1868, when whites at the Presbyterian Church on Commerce Street, which was erected by John McCullough, discovered a “mixed race” person in their church the congregation forced her out. In fact, racialized whites may have burned a separate Sunday school Church building to the ground for former San Antonio slaves.  


         When the Freedmen Bureau School was invited to teach Sunday school classes Freedmen leaders were accused inciting blacks to become the equal of whites. Blacks were forced to begin building their own churches in San Antonio and whites loved it.. Whites despised black attempts to go to their white churches. Racist leaders of the Methodist Church deeded a building that became St Paul’s Methodist Church. According to Kenneth Mason, the white racist Baptists did the same thing when so-called Reverend J.F. Hines of the all-white First Baptist Church “backed twenty three freedmen to establish Mount Zion First Baptist Church in 1871.”


         The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) became embroiled in the fight between the North and the South. The CME was closely connected to San Antonio’s German loyalists that refused to support Robert E. Lee and the institution of slavery. Fighting between the Germans and the former slave owning Democrats started in the white Methodist Episcopal Church over housing of the Lincoln Freedmen Bureau School in their church. While the Republicans tried to politically control blacks the Democrats were doing the same thing; but blacks were simply trying to build upon their rights. When black preachers began to receive funds from white preachers for promises to build their own churches, and stay out of white churches, fights began to develop between and within black churches. Some black preachers began selling out their members and the community by accepting such funds. According to Mason, The national AME Church sent Reverend Richard Haywood to San Antonio. He was immediately accused of being an accomplice of the former slave owners. However, Haywood was able to establish St. James AME Church in 1868 and began a legal war to get the CME building.


        The AME won the legal fight and as a result left the old building and started St Paul’s Colored Methodist, which racist whites welcomed. One must remember that whites would pay money or do anything to keep blacks out of all-white churches. After this fight, the Episcopalians then began efforts to control blacks. According to Mason, the white AME Bishop, Alexander Gregg, argued that “Christian instruction would make ex-slaves more docile, and every effort should be made to encourage them to attend church services, to assume seats in the rear and balcony.” Clearly a bigot, Alexander Gregg saw to it that another white racist bishop named Robert Woodward Barnwell Elliot (R.W. B. Elliot) would be in charge of controlling African Americans.


         In one of the most racist statements a Christian Bishop ever-made, Bishop Elliot said, “their docility exhibited during the Civil War . . .as agriculturists in our fields, and as domestics about our homes established a claim upon the soil of this country and the good-will of the white race.” Elliot believed that the freeing of blacks from slavery was not a good thing. Elliot and other racist white preachers from all of the other denominations were seeking ways to keep blacks in segregated churches and out of their “fine” churches. The only reason Elliot appealed to the clergy to establish Sunday Schools for blacks was to get them out of white churches and to make them “docile.” This was Elliot’s “Christian” plan, and it had nothing to do with “missionary work,” unless this “missionary work” was to control and segregate blacks. Racist leaders in churches still exist to this day.


         After Bishop R.W.B. Elliot died another racist named Reverend James Steptoe Johnston carried these segregationist ideas forth. He took advantage of a splinter group of the St. James AME Church that were more “bourgeoisie” than other St. James AME members and helped them to establish St Philip’s Episcopal Church in 1895. Many church members do not know these facts today. Johnston would go on to establish St. Philip’s College with the clear intention of making blacks docile and training them in jobs (the racist idea of vocational training at the time) that would remove them from competing with whites in areas that would imply blacks were their equals.


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