Black history is world history, local history

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Alliance honors alumni of original Union.

By Paula Christine Schuler

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Until 1972, this college disallowed black students from gathering at a podium and from announcing their meetings.

Students had to meet without the benefit of college support, sponsor advisement or official recognition.

Three students from that era of this college’s history gathered with faculty, students and community leaders for a panel discussion on the history of the college’s Black Student Union Feb. 19 in the craft room of Loftin Student Center.

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Former City Councilmen Mario Marcel Salas and John Sanders along with Beverly Watts Davis, director of the United States Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, opened doors for students of color for future generations to follow them.

The honored alumni created opportunity for students of color at this college and throughout the city.

They all attended this college in the late 1960s to early 1970s.

“It really was a war,” Salas said. He said leadership first came from their efforts inside the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, beginning in 1969.

He said he had a key role in the organization, and the Black Student Union was finally recognized in 1972 as a result of the efforts of SNCC.

The committee went on to help form black student groups on every campus in San Antonio except St. Mary’s University, which had its own leadership at the time.

“Black history is not just for blacks,” Salas said. “Black history is world history.”

He said people often do not know real history because it has been sanitized.

He said African and Arabic names are often believed to be European or Mexican.

“Every ethnic group has played an important role,” he said. “We cannot erase anyone’s history.”

Sanders said he was on a black basketball team coached by the Methodist Center coach C. W. Cunningham.

They won the intramural championship and a trip to a citywide tournament.

“School administration asked us to invite two members of each team we defeated to go with us to the citywide intramural tournament,” he said. “We asked, ‘why?’”

Sanders said they knew why.

If their black team had lost the tournament, then none of their team members would have been asked to attend the next tournament with any of the white teams.

He said they boycotted classes because the college refused to let them go and represent the college in the tournament.

Sanders said, “That was the beginning of not being underestimated, undervalued and marginalized.”

He said the current day Black Student Alliance is carrying on tremendous work.

The first sponsor of the Black Student Union of 1972 was Dr. Earl Wright, who is still a psychology professor at this college today.

Sanders said, “All you need is to be committed, right and together.”

Davis attended this college as a dual student from Trinity University and was the first black student to attend and live on campus there.

Davis said, “My story is common with everyone here.”

She was a student at this college along with Salas and Sanders, but chose to speak about her experiences at Trinity University.

She said after she received an outstanding student award at Trinity, interesting things started happening.

Her on-campus dorm room was trashed and her car was destroyed.

Someone set a fire just outside of her dorm room.

Another incident involved a break-in.

“They broke into my room and hung up a doll kind of thing with a noose around its neck and sign that said ‘go home nigger, don’t walk across the stage,’” she said. “The dean wanted to send me my graduation certificate.”

She said, “‘No’ is only for a moment. Do whatever you have to do to get to ‘yes.’”

One faculty member asked to say a few words.

History Chair Paul Wilson came to the podium and said democracy is about removing barriers.

He said he was mayor of a town years ago when he bumped into a woman he knew was “opinionated” against black people.

He said he liked her African jewelry.

She was irate and insisted she got it from a Navajo reservation.

He said, “I’m a little man because damn I enjoyed that!”

Laughter was heard throughout the audience.

They enjoyed it, too.

Wilson said words lose their meaning if they are used too much or too broadly.

He said the word “hero” is one of those.

“Think about the exceptional quality that label should grant,” he said. “People you honor today are true heroes in the very meaning of that word.”

The panel of activists welcomed questions from the audience.

An audience member asked how to get more educated about black activism, find and join groups.

“I really do believe we have got to figure out how to use social media,” Davis said. “You are all very electronic.”

Davis said, “Help us get the message to your generation about our history.”

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