This virtual ofrenda honors local Civil Rights heroine Mary Lillian Andrews. She used the power of youth action, and the conviction that injustice must be overcome by reason and right, to champion long overdue social change. November 6th would have been her 79th birthday. Coalition for the Woolworth Building members and friends created the original altar for Muertos Fest 2019.
Conservation Society President Patti Zaiontz introduces Taylor Andrews who reads her aunt’s historic letter requesting equal service at local lunch counters.
Seventeen-year-old Mary Lillian Andrews, the granddaughter of Samuel and Lillian Sutton, took a bold stand against lunch counter segregation in San Antonio, Texas. While a college freshman at Our Lady of the Lake, she served as president of the local NAACP Youth Council. Under her leadership, the student-led, national sit-in movement made its presence felt in San Antonio in March of 1960.
Mary wrote letters to downtown store managers, including those of F. W. Woolworth, S. H. Kress, and Joske’s, requesting an end to segregated dining. While awaiting a reply, she led a Youth Council rally where members planned what the San Antonio Register described as an “all-out assault on discrimination in San Antonio eating facilities.” Backed by an ultimatum by the NAACP, Mary’s words brought community leaders and store mangers together to negotiate the first voluntary, peaceful lunch counter desegregation of the national Civil Rights Sit-In Movement.
Mr. Charles Andrews, Jr., Mary’s older brother, provides an inside story about the photo of Mary that appeared in the March 31, 1960 issue of JET Magazine.
On March 16, 1960, seven stores in downtown San Antonio (excluding Joske’s) voluntarily and peacefully integrated their lunch counters. In the wake of that success, JET Magazine asked Mary and a friend to pose for a photo at the lunch counter of the Woolworth’s on Alamo Plaza. Watch the Society’s videos on the Texas sit-ins to learn more.
The Woolworth Building was listed on the World Monument Fund’s 2020 Watch List when its preservation was in doubt. In May 2021, the State of Texas confirmed that this Alamo Plaza landmark will be saved as part of the new Alamo museum and will include a free Civil Rights exhibit.