Activist wants East Side tour to teach black history

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By Paula Christina Schuler

Former City Councilman Mario Marcel Salas is an alumnus of this college who has focused on making a difference as an activist for the past 30 years.

As co-founder in 1972 of the Black Student Union, the first chartered black student group at this college, he was honored at a Black History Month event sponsored by the Black Student Alliance Feb. 17.

In a follow-up interview Feb. 19, Salas said activism is still a part of him.

“The power of institutional racism is diluted, but it hasn’t gone away,” he said.

On his list of things to do is the establishment of an annual historic tour of the East Side of San Antonio.

He first gave the tour as part of an African-American studies class he was teaching.

About 40 participants attended his first tour Oct. 15, 2011, including NOWCastSA, a local media organization.

He said posting a note about the tour on Facebook led to members of the community joining the group.

Video clips are available at the website, but he sees the opportunity to connect people to each other and to the history of the East Side.

Speaking about passing on black history to the next generation, he said, “There has to be a project to bring the two groups together, going over black history or brown history, whatever the case may be.”

He is willing to speak, participate in documentary projects and continue writing as his part of keeping black history and events in memory.

Salas said he wants minorities to know and understand that many people opposed white supremacy and racism and gave their lives in opposition to it so people of color could be recognized as equal human beings.

“I get so sick of people saying the majority believed slavery was OK,” he said. “Psychological terror was committed against black and white.”

After graduating from Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston, Salas began his activism in 1969 with the national Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and quickly became a local leader.

He said San Antonio SNCC was known for its uniqueness because it also up held Black Panther ideologies.

Salas said members wore a uniform with the denim of SNCC and the berets of the Black Panthers.

Members of SNCC across the country included Asians and whites, not just blacks.

The Black Panthers fought for all who were oppressed. As a result, the local chapter gave free breakfast to schoolchildren, provided free legal support, free groceries and free shoes, he said.

Salas said there was an ongoing surveillance presence from the FBI, sometimes with embedded members.

They were aware of bugged telephone lines, photography from rooftops and embedded spies. Salas said he used his electronics skills to be the group’s “sweeper” for government listening devices.

In the 1970s, SNCC dissolved, but San Antonio had one of the longest-running chapters in the United States, fading away in the late 1970s.

Salas went on to earn masters’s degrees in education and political science.

He was elected to City Council in 1997 and served two terms.

The State of Texas passed a bill designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday thanks to the efforts of Salas and others in Frontline 2000, a nonprofit organized in the early 1990s.

The prominent role played by Salas and others with this holiday being recognized by the State of Texas is one of the main reasons San Antonio has one of the largest MLK marches in the nation.

About 100,000 people marched this year in San Antonio.


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