June 19th – Juneteenth – marks the day in 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger delivered the message of freedom to enslaved African Americans in Texas. This news, first announced in Galveston Bay, arrived two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The celebration that greeted Granger’s proclamation became an annual event for African Americans in Texas; an occasion for picnics, family gatherings, and parades, as well as for reflection. Modern celebrations became bigger than Texas, spreading nationwide. On Wednesday, June 16th, 2021, Congress approved a bill to establish Juneteenth National Independence Day as a new federal holiday.
San Antonio and Bexar County’s African American community has a rich history that is being rapidly rediscovered and brought to public attention. This year, we have great cause for jubilation. Citizens and government officials are working together to preserve physical structures that connect to under-told stories of African American resilience and achievement. These range from the 1875 Reconstruction-era foundations of the St. James AME Church beside San Pedro Creek to the Woolworth Building, a Civil Rights landmark on Alamo Plaza.
Conservation Society member Nettie Hinton recently discussed her memories of Woolworth and the Civil Rights era in this video interview by Express-News reporter Vincent Davis.
The former Woolworth store will become part of the new Alamo Museum. The building’s preservation ensures that the African-American struggle for equality will be visually represented on Texas’s most famous plaza. The museum will also include a free exhibit that tells the story of how San Antonio produced the first voluntary and peaceful lunch counter integration of the 1960 sit-in movement.
But you don’t have to wait for the museum to open to learn more about how young African Americans struck a blow against Jim Crow in public eating places across Texas. The Conservation Society, in partnership with the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), presents a new, mini-video series on the Texas lunch counter sit-ins. Meet some of the women and men whose courage and sacrifice helped move our country closer to keeping its promise of liberty and justice for all.
This free video series, “Woolworth and Civil Rights: A First in the South,” is made possible in part by grants from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and World Monuments Fund (WMF).