History behind first Black churches on city’s East Side

Three churches were instrumental in Black San Antonians fight for justice

SAN ANTONIO – The city of San Antonio has a rich history, filled with people, places and events that helped shape it.

But, much of San Antonio’s Black history has remained untold for years.

Throughout the history of the fight for Civil Rights in our country, Black churches played a part, serving as meeting spaces when there weren’t many other options.

And San Antonio is no exception.

Several churches have played a role in the fight for equality in our city.

In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many formerly enslaved Black Americans were left without a place to worship.

This led many Black communities to create their own churches, like St. Paul’s Methodist Church in 1866 and Mount Zion First Baptist Church in 1871.

“Really even from the period of slavery, the African-American church was the one institution that was an organizing space. And so after slavery is over and you look for leaders, it’s the church that becomes that space that can bring people together,” said Carey Latimore, associate professor of history at Trinity University.

“You could gather, you could obtain a measure of respect, you could learn how you could it was a safe space,” said Ken Stewart, archivist and museum collection director for the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum.

St. Paul Methodist was built thanks to the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was established by Congress to offer help to freed slaves.

Mount Zion First Baptist Church became the home church of local Civil Rights Activist Rev. Claude Black.

In 1935, the Antioch Baptist Church opened -- less than three miles away from Mount Zion.

During the Civil Rights Movement, that church became a designated area for NAACP meetings.

Black leaders would organize marches and protests there.

Antioch also created the first free breakfast program in San Antonio.

According to St. Mary’s University, that program was later adopted by the San Antonio Independent School District.

All three churches are still operating today, providing a safe space for Black San Antonians and the entire community.

If you’d like to learn more about San Antonio’s Hidden Black History, you can watch the KSAT Explains episode here.

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