A look back at local segregation

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Illustration by Estefania B. Alonso

One woman recounts memories of Jim Crow restrictions.

By Rachel Cooper

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Nettie Hinton, NAACP San Anto-nio branch member, was “born right in the middle of the historically black East Side of San Antonio during that period of time.”

The time she refers to is segregation.

The Majestic Theater had a balcony off College Street, which then was “essentially an alley,” she said. “You could go to the Majestic and the Empire; you could not go to the Aztec or the Texas.”

African-Americans had to go to the box office in the alley and get on a service elevator up to the highest balcony.

That balcony at the Majestic is not accessible anymore because it is used for lights and items for stage presentations.

During the segregated Jim Crow days, Hinton sang at the old Municipal Auditorium.

Her mother was the park superintendent at Central Playground where African-Americans were allowed.

African-Americans were not allowed to go to other playgrounds during Jim Crow segregation, she said.

“If a black person came near a swimming pool, they drained the swimming pool.”

What is left of the playground is by the St. Peter Claver cemetery near Live Oak and Nolan streets, she said.

Central Playground had a field house with a stage, basketball court with bleachers, tennis courts, softball field, a sandbox area for kids and across the street was the swimming pool.

St. Peter Claver Academy, a Catholic K-12 school that Hinton attended, was operated by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate since the late 1800s until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 ended segregated schools.

It closed for a while and eventually reopened as the Healy-Murphy home.

The school then became a refuge for young women who were pregnant and weren’t allowed to go to public school. There was also a center for the babies.

It eventually included young men who were in trouble with the law, and people in need of a GED.

Hinton attended St. Philip’s College.

“Understand, when I was going to college here, I could not have gone to SAC,” she said.

Artemisa Bowden was the founder of St. Philip’s, originally a sewing school in La Villita.

Bowden is known as “the savior of St. Philip’s College,” Hinton said.

St. Philip’s began as an Episcopal church school and a historically black college, she said.

After getting an associate degree, she transferred to the University of Texas at Austin and graduated in 1960.

Hinton has the honor of “being one of the first African-Americans from San Antonio to earn an undergraduate degree from UT-Austin.”

What is now the Carver Community Cultural Center used to be a “colored” library, she said.

African-Americans could not borrow books from public schools or a public library.

There were clusters of African-American people all around San Antonio, and the largest cluster was on the East Side, she said.

Douglass High School was there and is now known as Douglass Academy.

If you wanted to go to high school, you had to come to the East Side, she said.

There were also a substantial number of African-Americans living on the West Side.

They built the Abraham Grant Elementary School on the West Side where Hinton worked for three years, teaching fifth grade.

Hinton came back to San Antonio in 1993 from working in Washington, D.C., for 30 years in U.S. customs.

With the San Antonio Choral Society, she returned to the Majestic Theater and that is when she first stepped onto the stage of the former movie palace.

Afterward, she carried the program that included her name to the cemetery where her mother is buried.

“Look, Momma, what I brought you!” she said.

“So that’s how you can move from one era through time to a different era. You can be a performer and not somebody relegated to the alley and the balcony.”

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1 Comment

  1. Julius Alberson on

    My name is Julius Alberson. I really enjoyed reading the comments of Ms. Nettie Hinton regarding local segregation in San Antonio, Texas. I was born in April, 1941 and lived in San Antonio until joining the military in late 1963. With my mom I lived in Lincoln Courts until approximately 1949 then we moved to the East Side of town. Racial segregation was throughout San Antonio until I guess about 1962-1963, this was a very demeaning and economically wasteful practice. African Americans were not allowed to have virtually any job other than a teaching or a domestic service type jobs. We could not be: a bus driver, a sales person at a business, a supermarket cashier, a mechanic at an automobile dealership, the list of job opportunities we could not participate in is endless. We were not allowed in the downtown central library, the main movie theater lobbies, and restaurant dinning rooms. Even riding on public transportation was very restricted. This form of racial segregation was very demeaning; however, it was not limited to San Antonio or just the South. Contemporary attitudes towards racial differences have improved but there is still work to be done.

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