South Texas & San Antonio: Black History, Culture & Place™_2

Menger Soap Works (1850) sheltered Black church services in San Antonio, Texas
Menger Soap Works (1850) sheltered Black church services in San Antonio, Texas

There are so many layers of history and culture in the south Texas and San Antonio region that it is literally very difficult to take a step without encountering a significant landmark or story. For many years a myth has been generated that there is “…no significant Black history in south Texas and San Antonio.” Documentation ranging from periodicals, church histories, photographs, maps and public records makes it clear that the myth is absolutely not true.

The Menger Soap Works structure was built in 1850, on the west bank of San Pedro Creek, less than one half mile west of the San Antonio River. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of pre-Civil War industrial architecture, and currently serves as the leasing office for a modern apartment complex. However, between 1868 and 1873 it was rented to “Colored Methodist” and African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church congregations for fifteen dollars a month for religious services. The congregations were started by former Black slaves.  In the coming decades, the congregations evolved to serve Black enclaves within one mile of historic Main Plaza, on the west side of the city. Successors of these original Black congregations still survive in west San Antonio, approaching their one hundred and fiftieth anniversaries.

South Texas & San Antonio: Black History, Culture & Place™_1

Simon Turner, San Jose News (CA), Lomar Service photo, 9-06-1928
Simon Turner, San Jose News (CA), Lomar Service photo, 9-06-1928

Black businessmen began to work on San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza soon after the end of the Civil War in 1865.  Mr. Simon Turner (Black; 1855 – 1942) enlisted at the rank of private in the United States Cavalry in 1867.  He was assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers regiment of the U.S. Cavalry stationed in Oklahoma until 1881.  In 1881 he was reassigned with other Buffalo Soldiers to deliver mail from El Paso, Texas.  Mr. Turner was wounded in action in 1882, and was discharged at the rank of sergeant in 1883, before moving to San Antonio.  Initially, he found work as a porter at the Maverick Bank, on the northwest corner of Alamo Plaza,  at the intersection of Alamo and East Houston.  From 1886 through 1892 Mr. Turner served in the 1st Colored Regiment, Infantry as the Captain of Company A, Excelsior Guard militia (San Antonio).

1891 advertisement, Johnson & Chapman’s General Directory of the City of San Antonio
1891 advertisement, Johnson & Chapman’s General Directory of the City of San Antonio

Between 1884 and 1890 Mr. Turner served as a delegate to a series of “Colored Men’s State Conventions” that addressed civil rights and social issues for Black Texans during the Reconstruction period. By 1891 Mr. Turner was able to operate his own fruit store and “ice cream saloon” near the southwest corner of what is now Alamo and East Crockett Street.  By 1900 he moved to San Jose, California.  In 1928 he received a medal of honor forty five years after his honorable discharge.

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