Alamo Colleges might open old wounds

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A mural in Bowden Center at St. Philip’s College displays the history behind the college. Chancellor Bruce Leslie said the Alamo Community College District does a good job of displaying the history behind the colleges. Photo by Sasha D. Robinson

Opening a new building on the old Playland Park disturbing to some.

By Sasha D. Robinson

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

In the days of segregation and Jim Crow laws, Playland Park would not allow blacks or Hispanics on the property.

Now the Alamo Colleges plans to build a $55 million district support operations center on the site.

Nettie Hinton, who volunteers with the NAACP, remembers when she was young, she was not allowed to be on the property except for Juneteenth, a celebration commemorating the arrival of news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on June 19, 1863.

“It really, really hurts my heart and my sensibility that the new administration building is going to be built on anchorage that when I was a child, I could only step foot on once a year on the 19th of June,” Hinton said in a phone interview.

Chancellor Bruce Leslie acknowledged the racial divide in the past and the struggle that existed but noted how far society has come since then.

“Building on the property is no way a rejection of the past,” Leslie said April 19.

During a special board meeting July 21, 2015, an advisory board approved a new district building to be built on the property at 2222 N. Alamo St.

Leslie said the reason Alamo Colleges picked the land was because they wanted to have the offices central to all of the campuses because the district serves eight counties.

“A lot of people talk about San Antonio being the future city of the 21st century because we are so diverse, and we celebrate that diversity in so many different ways that we never let the past stop us from being a great community,” he said.

Hinton, who graduated from St. Philip’s in 1957, said she feels this is another slap in the face to the black community.

“It is Ironic that they want to build the new administration building on a plot of land that blacks were not allowed to step foot on but once a year,” Hinton said.

“I could not have stepped foot on that property, and neither could St. Artemisia Bowden,” Hinton said. “It is OK to build on the property, but it is not OK for a historic black college to be accredited on its own.”

Hinton referred to Leslie’s attempts to merge the five colleges, which would require only one accreditation.

St. Philip’s is the only college to be federally designated as both a historically black college and a Hispanic-serving institution.

Jimmy Johnson opened Playland Park in 1943.

It was the home of the wooden Rocket roller coaster, “the largest roller coaster in the world” at the time.

The website “History of Playland Park,” lists 10 adult rides, 6 kid rides, penny arcades, a fun house, a shooting gallery, golf course, archery range, picnic grounds and more.

The park closed in 1980.

In the article “It wasn’t all fun and games at Playland Park” by Arthur Gochman, he talked about a trip to Playland Park with his African-American friend, Clarence, in 1945.

Twenty law officers were at the entrance of the park. They separated the two friends and Clarence had to step out into the street.

When the friends were allowed to go into the park, they were not allowed to ride on the same ride, sit at the same table when they ate, or even socialize because the city was segregated and adhered to Jim Crow laws.

According to an article by Dr. David Pilgrim, sociology professor at Ferris State University in September 2000, Jim Crow was the name of racial caste system that operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states between 1877 and the mid-1960s.

Ferris State University houses the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia with a website at ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm.

Under these laws, African Americans were relegated to the status of second-class citizens.

Some of the laws were a black man could not offer his hand to a white man because it implied being socially equal; blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another in public; and white motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections.

Retired case worker Diane Robinson, who was born in 1950 and went to Playland Park with her cousins when she was a child, did not know the park was segregated but feels that the district should do something to remember the past.

Robinson, who is African American, had some of her fondest memories with her sister Beverly and brother Dennis.

Her cousins Michael, Joyce, Lloyd Jr. and Eugene would go to the park on the weekends and made a club called “The Cousins Club.”

“If the college did something to acknowledge the past, it would show everyone that the college does not want to forget what has happened,” Robinson said.

St. Philip’s has a timeline mural in the G.L. Sutton building’s third floor beginning with the inception as a sewing school March 1, 1898.

The timeline continues showing St. Philip’s College began admitting white students in 1955 through the accomplishments the college has achieved for the 21st century.

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