Trinity University will release 300 Years of San Antonio & Bexar County in June. Credit: Courtesy / Trinity University Press

Now that Commemorative Week has come and gone, City, County, and Tricentennial Commission leaders look toward “the next 300 years,” as Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during the May 4 dedication of a new permanent sculpture at Hemisfair.

One lasting legacy from this once-in-a-lifetime anniversary will be a special commemorative book, titled 300 Years of San Antonio & Bexar County, to be published in June.

“We’re confident people will admire the book and read it for years to come,” said Tom Payton, director of Trinity University Press, which has partnered on the publication with the City, County, and Tricentennial Commission.

In its more than 250 pages, the book weaves together the voices of 45 contributors from San Antonio’s various communities and organizations, representing the ethnic and historical makeup of the city and its many viewpoints, according to editor Claudia Guerra.

Guerra serves in a separate role as cultural historian in the City’s Office of Historic Preservation and brings years of prior experience as a publishing executive to the project.

In a press announcement, Tricentennial Commission co-chair Lionel Sosa confirmed that with so many contributors, the book is “truly a community effort. That was important to us from the beginning.”

Rather than a straightforward historical account of San Antonio and Bexar County’s roots and evolution, the book is organized by four main themes, Guerra said: “We’re All Visitors Here,” “Becoming San Antonio,” “The Soul of San Antonio,” and “San Antonio and the U.S. and the World.”

“Everybody has come here from somewhere at some point,” Guerra said of the “Visitors” section, which focuses on the people who arrived and “what drew them here.” One example she gave is water, a theme which runs through the book like the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek run through the city and county.

The “Becoming” section looks at how inhabitants began to change the environment and their combined cultural values, she said, “and started to shape a unique and very special kind of place.”

The “Soul” section focuses on music, “the intangible culture” of San Antonio, as Guerra put it, “and the spirit of place and the spirit of people.”

Through her own research and the editing process, Guerra learned about the “Westside sound,” which she said is not just about the city’s Westside, but “a story that involves the military, desegregation, and Philadelphia and New York, as much as it involves San Antonio,” she said.

Music here represents “a wonderful synthesis of what makes something unique in San Antonio, and so different from what you get anywhere else,” she explained.

The fourth section regards San Antonio’s self-conscious place in the world, looking back at HemisFair ’68 and the neighborhood it replaced, the origins of Univision, and how science, research, and technology have shaped the city.

Local architect and self-described “community historian” Everett Fly contributed an essay on early black settlements in Bexar County and a shorter piece on cattle brands registered by black residents, Guerra said.

Fly said the short piece on cattle brands reveals only a glimpse of a fascinating and much deeper history of Emancipation-era black settlement, ambition, entrepreneurialism, and civic engagement in the city and county.

Fly said a friend came across a cemetery in the Northern Hills neighborhood, which led them to a cattle brand registered by a former slave, Jane Warren, the matriarch of an area family. All cattle brands are registered with Bexar County and meticulous records still exist.

Fly also found a brand registered to a free black man named Samuel McCulloch, who was the first person wounded in the Texas Revolution.

“That’s a big deal,” he said, emphasizing that as a landowner managing a 300-acre estate, McCulloch would also have been registered to vote. McCulloch and Warren also donated land to establish churches and schools, Fly said.

Such knowledge “represents a huge gap in San Antonio and Bexar County history that has not been recognized,” Fly said, primarily due to stereotypes that fail to credit African-Americans with such ambition and concern for civic engagement. Though not always intentionally, he said, “Our traditional scholars and historians and cultural leaders have completely overlooked this.”

Though he agreed to contribute, Fly said with a more inclusive process and by integrating local histories, the book itself could have been more of a “community building” project and “would have given us a much better opportunity to refresh and energize our community for the next 300 years.”

Guerra described the various histories in the book as “all very integrated.” It’s not a typical history book, she said, in that it doesn’t follow a chronological sequence.

“It’s important that these stories somehow mesh with each other,” Guerra said, citing examples of Conjunto music history, Mexican heritage and bilingualism, the fire and police departments, the military, and “the first black postman in San Antonio,” and Hector Cardenas, Tomas Ybarra Frausto, Sarah Gould, Mario Salas, John Phillip Santos, and Carmen Tafolla as among the many contributors.

A history of San Antonio could be many volumes, she said. “What I’m hoping is that somebody takes one kernel of this and writes the complete history of anything they read about in here that they connect to.”

In an email to the Rivard Report, Payton wrote that “the real point of the study of history is to gain context, to understand how the telling of past history is never complete, there is always something new, there is always a different perspective, there are always emerging and reemerging themes. That is the real purpose and lesson: to provide a well-built, not weak, bridge to the future.”

“History informs the future, so there’s lessons to be learned from all of this,” Guerra said.

The official book release for 300 Years of San Antonio & Bexar County is scheduled for June 20 at Trinity University, with details to come on the SA300 website.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon and The Twig Book Shop‘s online store, and Payton added that the book will be available at “all neighborhood and online retailers,” including The Twig and Barnes & Noble.

This story was originally published on May 8, 2018. 

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...