San Antonio professor credited with helping establish MLK Day as a state holiday in Texas

Texas began recognizing King’s birthday as a holiday in 1991

SAN ANTONIO – The fact that we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King jr.’s birthday as a state holiday is the result of a battle that lasted years and included talks of suing the NFL nearly 30 years ago.

One of the people who led that charge is a local historian and activist, Mario Marcel Salas.

“I was very much involved in trying to end racial injustice in the San Antonio area for the most part,” Salas said.

San Antonio professor speaks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s less told legacies

In 1983, more than a decade following King’s death, his birthday was recognized as a federal holiday.

In 1989 Salas noticed that Texas was one of three states where lawmakers had still not signed a bill into law recognizing King’s birthday as a state holiday.

They (Texas lawmakers) literally would take the bill and … place it on the bottom of the stack so it would never be heard,” Salas said.

To bring attention to the issue, Salas and other activists pushed The San Antonio City Council to urge VIA to pull out of a conference that was in Arizona, because Arizona was one of the states that did not honor King’s birthday as a state holiday at the time.

Salas says when the NFL also took a stance by not hosting the Superbowl there, which further motivated him and his team.

“If you guys are going to announce that you’re not going to Arizona and play because they don’t honor King, then you can’t come to Texas either,” Salas said.

With a Superbowl bid in Houston in limbo, Salas and other activists threatened to sue the NFL. Momentum from press coverage they received pushed them to knock on the door of then Texas house speaker, Gib Lewis.

“Do you want to have a Superbowl in Texas or not, Mr. Speaker?” Salas said.

The move seemed to work.

“We were in the room, maybe 10 minutes. He simply said, ‘gentlemen, by the time you wake up tomorrow, that bill will be out of our Calendars Committee and on the floor for a vote,’” Salas said.

In 1991 the bill recognizing King’s birthday as a state holiday was signed into law.

Now 71-years-old, Salas is a chairperson for the San Antonio Coalition for Police Accountability. He says he’s still fighting to end police brutality and racial injustice.

About the Authors:

Deven Clarke is the crime and justice reporter for KSAT12.