Lafayette Walker lies in the Black Cemetery
Photo: Mario Salas
W.E.B. Dubois once said, “Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentile Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line” These words echoed across time as the problem of racism and white supremacy are still with us. The 21st Century has come, but the persistence of past racist structures has come with it. African American graveyards are all over the city of San Antonio and one specific one exists on the Eastside of San Antonio, which, before 1999, was completely covered with weeds, completely neglected. Many of the names are now illegible under years of rain, dust, and neglect.
One such important person in San Antonio’s black history is Lafayette Walker. A description of the resting-place of Lafayette Walker, in the Old United Brothers of Friendship (UBF) Cemetery Household of Ruth, according to the Old San Antonio City Cemeteries Historic District Master Plan says: “This cemetery is small and unkept with a single dirt road which is eroded and overgrown . . . Virtually no maintenance takes place, although family members have been seen mowing a path through the weeds to a particular plot. No fencing or demarcation of boundaries exists.” This is no longer true as I was able to get the city to fix up the resting place of so many of San Antonio’s black residents and leaders.
By city ordinance, which I authored as a City Councilman, the Parks Department of the City of San Antonio took over maintenance, at my insistence, and graves can now be seen and investigated. It was by design that this neglect occurred. The erasure and distortion of black history is very much part of the white supremacist mindset of this city. This graveyard holds much of San Antonio’s black history and lies at the corner of South New Braunfels and Montana Streets. In many ways this cemetery holds what W.E. B Dubois called, in his famous book, The Souls of Black Folk, those who have been expunged from San Antonio’s history. It contains the remains of Lafayette Walker and Rev. Isaiah Kelly, two black leaders with different views and positions in a colonial structure. Though Kelly was an accomplice of the white supremacists, he was nevertheless disgraced by being buried in the segregated cemetery. Walker, on the other hand, fought for a position and for principle, and for black folk. He was a Union soldier that fought against the racist hordes of Robert E. Lee.
Lafayette Walker, according to Kenneth Mason, became one of the “most outspoken in the drive to elect a black to office” in the 1870s. When union Republicans took control of the state they replaced the democratic Mayor of San Antonio with a Unionist Republican. James Newcomb, a Unionist but also a racist, became the Registrar of Voters. The ousted pro-slavery men helped to form the local KKK in San Antonio. However, Newcomb would use his position to force blacks into voting for his power base, in exchange for protection for blacks against racist forces. It is important to remember that one of the most important figures in San Antonio’s Black history was Lafayette Walker. He died in 1902 as his gravestone indicates but his name is not heralded as a fighter for black civil and human rights. Instead, we are presented every year with fake history about the slave owner confederacy and the slave owner Alamo defenders that fought for slavery in Texas.