San Antonio Black Community Heroes Honored with Eastside Mural
Hattie Elam Briscoe—Top Right
Mario Marcel Salas
According to documents at the UTSA Library, in the Special Collections Department of the John Peace Library, Hattie Elam Briscoe was the “First Black woman to graduate from St. Mary’s University School of Law, and was the only Black woman attorney in Bexar County for the next 27 years.” She was the recipient of a scholarship to attend Wiley College where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1937. Wiley College students launched some of the first sit-in demonstrations in Texas against segregation and were the home of the Great Debaters. Wiley College would have helped to steel Hattie’s determination to break the chains of segregation.
By 1944, Hattie had become a cosmetology instructor, where she taught night classes at Hicks Beauty School. Hattie was forced to attend schools that were racially segregated in Texas, but despite the generally inferior nature of segregated education she excelled. Later she became an instructor of Cosmetology at the segregated Wheatley High School in San Antonio. Understanding the horrible nature of segregation, but yet never giving up, Hattie received a Master’s degree at then segregated Prairie View A & M College in 1951. In 1952, she entered St. Mary’s Law School, a Catholic institution, where she attended night classes while working in the day. It was no easy matter for Hattie to graduate from St. Mary’s being 40 years old in 1956 and working to support her education. Hattie Briscoe practiced law for 42 years, serving the black community until 1998 at 1416 E. Commerce, which was an area that at one time the center of black life on the East Side.
John Inman—Bottom Center
John Inman, pictured over the First Mt Zion Baptist Church in the Baptist Settlement of San Antonio, was born in 1896 and was a fixture in the civil and human rights movement in San Antonio and across the city. Inman was a barber by profession, and had his community barber shop on S. Hackberry Street, diagonally across the street from Mt. Zion First Baptist to which he was a member. According to researcher Alwyn Barr, in quoting A.C. Sutton, John Inman was always in the lead for civil rights. Sutton said, “Anything that looked like a movement, he would be a part of.” After authorities discovered that Inman was a revolutionary they removed his barber shops from the military bases causing economic hardships. However, much to the displeasure of racists and segregationists Inman kept up the fight for human dignity. In 1928, John Inman became the president of the San Antonio Branch of the NAACP. He fought for infrastructure improvements on the East Side and carried out a campaign to end the poll tax.
John Inman was allied with Rev. Claude Black and the Sutton family. In the 1930s and 40s, the Black community was active in encouraging voting by holding mock “Sepia Mayoral Campaigns,” which are recorded in the Black Press (San Antonio Register), and “Anti-Poll Tax Rallies” on the east and west sides of the city (Register, March 31, 1939). Local labor activist John Inman participated in these mock mayoral campaigns which were organized by the Negro Chamber of Commerce. He was actually elected in a mock mayoral campaign in an effort to show that blacks deserved to be the mayor of San Antonio during the era of segregation. Inman’s influence would be felt years later when John Inman, would provide some of the political education classes for SNCC members, civil rights workers, and others in the 1960s. He never gave up and was quoted in the community by many people who remembered that he said, “The harder they fought me the harder I fought back. I was never afraid of risking my life for the cause of justice and freedom.” In the 1970s, John Inman was a member of the San Antonio Committee to Free Angela Davis and helped to organize a large rally of over 2500 for her freedom at La Villita Assembly Hall. John Inman passed away in 1996 at the age of 100.
Paul White—Bottom Right
Paul White was one of the last participants to see the end of black businesses on E. Commerce Street. E. Commerce Street had a strong history of black life and culture that once dominated the area. Most of it is now gone as the result of a racist move to eliminate black businesses by making the street one way. After the street was made one way and black businesses destroyed, it was returned to a two street to benefit downtown business interests that wanted to expand the business corridor east and gentrify the neighborhood.
This was world of black barber Paul White. Paul White was a black barber and a fixture on the city’s near East Side. He mentored and hired such famous local barbers as Charles Williams. Paul lived at a time when black businesses existed up and down East Commerce Street. He cut hair at a time on East Commerce Street. At 1412 East Commerce, next door to the Cunningham Pharmacy, in the same building, was Taylor’s Barber Shop. Taylor’s Barber Shop is where famed barber Paul White worked and gave Charles Williams his first job.
When Paul White died he was 86 years old and only John Inman, a black barber a few blocks away on South Hackberry Street was older than Paul White. Customers often noted how he looked out of his window and was saddened at what the city had done to destroy black businesses and the cultural life that went along with living in a segregated city.
Paul White was known to help those who could not afford a haircut and often did so for church members and strangers. The building he was a barber in is now being used by progressive fighters for social change. This is a fitting tribute to Paul white. Paul was married for 52 years to Geraldine White who preceded him in death.