The Equal Justice Initiative is Needed in San Antonio

There is a great initiative that is taking place to honor those blacks that were brutally killed by racists during the time frame between the Civil War and World War II. Thousands of blacks were lynched by mobs or legally lynched by a racist criminal justice system in the United States. These acts of extreme brutality and torture were at its highest between the late 1800s and the period just before the beginning of the Second World War. Black men, women and children suffered from the inhumanity of white supremacy in which government officials either turned a blind eye or participated in these horrors. This country has yet to be honest with itself about the terrible crimes it has committed against blacks, Mexican Americans, Indigenous People, Jews, poor whites, and others, but the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is attempting to do just that with a series of actions, monuments, and educationals aimed at Truth Commissions, the racist use of the death penalty, police violence, mental illness, mass incarceration of blacks and others, and children being railroaded to prison.

In the words of the organization, “The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” Furthermore, the organization believes that America’s “history of racial inequality and economic injustice in the United States has created continuing challenges for all Americans. EJI believes more must be done to advance our collective goal of equal justice for all. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the legacy of genocide, slavery, lynching, and racial segregation. As a result, people of color are marginalized, disadvantaged, and disproportionately impoverished; the criminal justice system is infected with racial bias; and a presumption of guilt and dangerousness has led to unjustified police violence against black and brown people.”

Blacks were lynched in San Antonio, but the preferred tactic was legal lynching. This often took the form of blacks being charged with striking a police officer, raping white women, or being accused of killing a white person. It also involved arresting blacks in the military that often were jeered and accused of coming to the aid of a fellow black person that was being brutalized by white police officers or groups of whites roaming Bexar County during Reconstruction. In fact, various racist groups organized in San Antonio under the leadership of Samuel Maverick. The KKK was organized in 1868 in the city and was determined to undermine black Reconstruction and civil rights.

The owners and staff of the San Antonio Herald Newspaper were KKK members. Their efforts led to members of the Union army’s 35th Infantry, stationed at Fort Sam Houston to become racist sympathizers. According to Express News accounts of 1868, during Reconstruction, armed gangs of white racists roamed Bexar County in an attempt to keep blacks from voting.

In 1865 the city government enacted a curfew to keep blacks from coming into the city and used vagrancy laws to punish blacks and prevent them from voting. Bexar county planters were able to capture free labor even after slavery by having the legal system sentence violators of various laws to work details. Some Bexar County roads were actually constructed using the black labor of men that were falsely arrested. Hence, San Antonio was as racist as any Deep South city during slavery and after slavery. 

Research has shown that blacks refused to pick cotton on the Cibolo Creek in eastern Bexar County and were poisoned using “Paris Green.” According to the Chemistry Research Journal (2016), “It is a highly toxic emerald green crystalline powder that has been used as a rodenticide and insecticide, and also as a pigment, despite of its toxicity.” Unbelievably, according to Smallwood, the planters denied the claim of murder and said blacks died from eating Green watermelons. Source:

Murders and killing were common in Texas as planters grew angry when blacks refused to work on the plantations and farms any longer. Unsolved murders or murders that the legal authorities knew about but refused to prosecute were rampant in San Antonio. However, in Bexar County and San Antonio, the legal method of lynching became the preferred method. According to the Express News, in 1873 blacks accused of stealing horses were “shot on the spot.” Much of this was done without solid evidence or arrest, but when needed the legal system could be expected to employ out the most severe punishment based on scanty evidence if any existed all. 

Little has changed since the era of Reconstruction. Even today, blacks are killed by law enforcement and nothing ever happens to them as they are protected by racist unions across Texas and the country. According to Kenneth Mason in 1874, “Black leaders complained that victims of police shootings were seldom investigated to determine whether the display of force was necessary.” I one case deputy sheriff from an areas outside of Bexar County was jailed after an argument with a black man and upon his release shot him and no attempts were made to prosecute him. According to the San Antonio Evening Light of 1874, a black man by the name of Edward Jenkins killed a white man in a fight and was tried and convicted of first degree murder, Jenkins was hanged in San Antonio on August 17, 1874 in what could only be described as a racist kangaroo trial by a Bexar County Judge. In another legal lynching, George Washington, a supposed mentally ill black man was accused of assaulting a white woman according to the San Antonio Light of 1883. 

The Equal Justice Initiative should erect a monument on the Salado Creek at Martin Luther King Park to honor those that were victims of San Antonio’s white supremacist gangs and a corrupt racist legal system. It would be an appropriate location as slaves were sold on the Salado Creek in Bexar County.

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24 May 2018

By Mario Salas