Racism in San Antonio: Canary Islanders, McAllister, Plough, Carolan, Maverick, King, and others


In the 1960s, the federal government demanded desegregation, but San Antonio’s white power structure found a way around it.  Even though public facilities would be officially integrated, the private sector would continue allowing for segregated facilities.  Contrary to banker William Sinkin’s assertion, in Holmesly’s (2003) book HemisFair ’68, about the fact that “San Antonio has never had a race riot” because the Good Government League began a “process of opening doors” was too simplistic a reason.  The term “race riot’ is misleading.  If people stage a rebellion against injustice it cannot be called a “race riot.” If, on the other hand it was a racist mob of white supremacists that can be called race riot. Sinkin probably did not know about the lynching here and the Jim Crows of the 1850s, nor the SNCC rebellion of 1969 against police brutality. He said nothing about slaves being sold at the Alamo in 1861, and the racist mob that chased a black man in front of the Alamo in the late 1800s. Sinkin apparently was not aware of the racial system set up by the Canary Islanders in 1718 as well.


As late as 1968, racism was still maintained by a legal system of white supremacy. According to local black leader Rev. C.W. Black, as stated in HemisFair ’68: “One of the most significant efforts to integrate lunch counters here was put around Joske’s Department Store . . . The whole issue of segregation in the restaurants became an economic issue . . . While most of us knew that Mayor McAllister was a man who believed in segregation . . . .” There were also efforts to integrate the San Antonio Woolworth’s lunch counter in the basement. 


Rather than HemisFair ’68 being a “cooperative symphony of harmony” it was economic action to benefit the wealthy.   The “process of opening doors” to blacks and Mexican Americans was facilitated by economic concerns which were all the more easily accomplished with a token system in place. Given the politics of then mayor Walter McAllister, there can be no doubt that altruistic reasons for integration in San Antonio were not present in the 1960s.  According to the San Antonio Inferno Newspaper of February 29, 1968, Mayor Walter McAllister, once said of deed restrictions he agreed to be placed on his property: “No lot, tract, or re-subdivision thereof, shall ever be sold, leased, demised or conveyed by deed, lease or gift or otherwise to Mexicans, Negroes, or persons of either Latin-American or African descent, nor shall any lot, tract, or re-subdivision thereof ever be used or occupied by Mexican, Negroes, or persons of either Latin-American or African descent except as household servants.” (We have an expressway, the San Antonio College auditorium, and a park named after this racist).In the 1900s, the Mexican American population was morphed into “whiteness.”  Birth records in San Antonio erroneously labeled Mexican Americans, Afro Mexicans, Afro-Mestizos, and others as white.  


There was not a single restaurant in downtown San Antonio where blacks could eat for years. Swimming pools and parks were segregated in San Antonio and San Pedro Park had areas set aside for blacks and whites so they could not mingle. Comanche Park once excluded blacks from using the park altogether as a result of a racist County Commissioner named A.J. Plough in the 1950s. The Majestic theater and others were segregated as was the public school system. McAllister was not the first racist mayor. Several Mayors of San Antonio were brutal racists in deeds and words and included: Samuel Maverick, Charles King, John Carolan, and others.



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