The Coalition for the Woolworth Building consists of: the San Antonio Branch NAACP; San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM); Esperanza Peace and Justice Center; Westside Preservation Alliance; San Antonio for Growth on the East Side; Mexican American Civil Rights Institute; concerned citizens; and The Conservation Society of San Antonio.
Since 2019, the Coalition has participated in the MLK March, both live and virtually. We marched determined to raise public support for saving the then endangered Woolworth Building, an important Civil Rights landmark on Alamo Plaza. Two months before the 2019 march, World Monuments Fund lifted our regional cause to the world stage by naming the Woolworth Building to its international Watch program.
The Coalition had anticipated marching with a joyful step this year. In May 2021, the State of Texas and the Alamo Trust committed to reusing the 100-year-old Woolworth Building as part of the new Alamo Museum. The celebration of this outcome – and the progress for heritage education it represents – continues, even without a live 2022 march.
With the help of a $25M commitment from Bexar County Commissioners Court, the planned museum will interpret over 300 years of history on Alamo Plaza. The Battle of the Alamo will remain key, but the underrepresented narratives of Native Americans, Blacks, and Latinos will also be told, reflecting the diversity of cultures, experiences, and contributions. Civil Rights will be interpreted within the walls of the Woolworth; the only one of six downtown lunch counter integration sites that retains evidence of its lunch counter.
The process of creating a museum that delivers on its pledge to be inclusive and engaging to all visitors promises to be complex. Fortunately, community stakeholders have a greater voice than before in guiding the experts tasked with shaping exhibits and programming. Participating leaders and experts in the African American community include: Aaronetta Pierce, Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee Tri-Chair; Trinity University history chair Dr. Carey Latimore; Deborah Omowale Jarmon, executive director of the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum; and Bexar County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores.
The Coalition continues to keep a watchful eye on progress while providing advocacy for other locally endangered cultural heritage sites. Recent efforts include the house of local NAACP president John Grumbles (saved!) and 503 Urban Loop (to be heard by City Council on Feb. 17th – click link to add your voice to ours). This Westside site includes an 1883 former brothel repurposed into a Catholic orphanage and day care. It served the working class Mexican American neighborhood of Laredito for seventy-five years. If preserved as part of the new development planned, it could be a visible landmark instead of another cultural loss.
Please watch for updates on the Coalition’s “Piecing Together a Story of Courage: Civil Rights in San Antonio” in-person event, which we plan to hold in mid-March 2022.