History Untold: Black community’s roots on the West Side

Civil service jobs at Kelly and Lackland Air Force bases drew influx of Black families

SAN ANTONIO – A thriving African American community took root on San Antonio’s West Side, especially after World War II, when many were drawn to the area by the prospect of civil service jobs.

Timothy Payne, who grew up in the Edgewood Independent School District, said his father was among them.

“He wanted to be a lot closer to the Air Force base since he had a civil service job out there after he retired from the Army,” Payne said.

Then in 1969, after an airfield closed in Mobile, Alabama, Payne said the workers there were told about the job prospects at the Air Force bases at Kelly and Lackland.

But with the vestiges of segregation still apparent and the redlining that restricted financing to communities of color, Payne said housing opportunities for African Americans were limited.

“The majority of them moved over here, and some moved on the East Side,” Payne said.

He said his parents were able to buy a home in West Ridge, a segregated subdivision off of Old Highway 90, that was advertised as “New Homes for Colored.”

Payne said where his home still is, “Everybody who lived on the street was all African Americans.”

Yet, he said, “We’re a blended culture out here, browns and blacks.”

Payne said it was apparent at Lincoln Elementary.

He said they went from the segregated George Washington Carver School to Lincoln, which had Hispanic and African American students.

“They were our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Diana Herrera, a lifelong resident in Edgewood, said, “It was just understood. It was just accepted.”

Both Herrera and Payne said white students also attended Lincoln.

Herrera said Edgewood ISD helped lead the way in integration and hiring with “the first black teacher, the first black principal.”

According to an Edgewood spokeswoman, Elizabeth T. Wrenn started in the district in 1942 before becoming the principal of Lincoln Elementary when it opened in 1959.

Then there were African American teachers like Catherine Elliott, who taught second grade at Lincoln.

“I always wanted my students to be the best,” Elliott said. “They were just as good as anybody else.”

Lincoln Elementary has since closed, but it had been the site of the Westside Education and Training Center, which is now housed in the rear of the property.

Alamo Colleges District recently cut the ribbon on the new $23 million WETC building in the 600 block of S.W. 41st.

An ACD spokeswoman said WETC is among the district’s one-stop centers that “meet community workforce training needs with technical and academic options for students across eight counties.”

Speaking as a former longtime educator, Elliott said,

“It’s really great that you have this community college here that’s coming up because you can educate the people here on the West Side.”

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About the Authors

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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