Texas had the First Major Southern City to Desegregate Lunch Counters

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Tony Maples Photography


Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the segregated back section of a city bus 64 years ago, was recently honored with a new statue in Montgomery, Alabama. Here in Texas, it’s noteworthy that San Antonio was the first major southern city to integrate its lunch counters. In a quiet change used to minimize violence associated with demonstrations, on March 16, 1960, the Woolworth Building was the first site of service to four black people at the once-segregated lunch counter. An iconic structure built about 1921 on Alamo Plaza, it is now on a list of 25 heritage sites worldwide described as threatened, though its history is vitally important.

Texas had the First Major Southern City to Desegregate Lunch Counters

Facebook/San Antonio African American Community Archive & Museum

A Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter sit-in got the attention of San Antonio downtown businesses, along with letters sent to six city stores on March 6, 1960, by college freshman Mary Andrews. The student, with the backing of the NAACP San Antonio chapter, asked for desegregation of their eating areas. Integrating lunch counters to avoid the dire situations faced elsewhere in the nation was a big motivation. Store owners ultimately agreed to serve blacks and do away with racial barriers, provided that the leaders of area churches would fire up their congregations in support of the move. Additionally, the large military presence is often partially credited for the city’s openness to integration.

Texas had the First Major Southern City to Desegregate Lunch Counters

Facebook/Andy Thomas

With the first step toward desegregation made, the San Antonio Interracial Committee was founded the next month with the goal of swaying public opinion against segregation. After five years, city council integrated all public areas via ordinance and fined businesses that did not comply. Although San Antonio never actually had segregation laws on the books, mindset and police had previously enforced de facto segregation. For more reading, find “African Americans in South Texas History”, edited by Bruce L. Gasrud and published by Texas A&M University Press.