Signage announcing the NAACP 109th Annual Convention hangs outside of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
Signage announcing the NAACP 109th Annual Convention hangs outside of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

About three months after celebrating their 100-year anniversary, members of the San Antonio branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will finally host a national convention in their hometown.

From July 14 to 18, an estimated 10,000 visitors will gather at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for the 109th NAACP convention. Its motto: “Defeat Hate. Vote.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do as far as equality for men and women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community, and we want to make sure people … take away this: We are true to our word that we fight for the rights of every individual when we see them being wronged,” said Oliver Hill, president of the NAACP San Antonio branch.

Hill has been involved in leading the local organization for more than two decades, serving as president from 1997-98, and then again since 2011. When he was re-elected as the branch’s president seven years ago, he began exploring what it would take to secure San Antonio’s first NAACP national convention. At the time, Hill said he didn’t expect his idea to go very far.

After discussing the idea with City officials, including former Mayor Ivy Taylor, Hill submitted a letter of interest to host the convention in his hometown.

“A couple of years pass and seemingly, nothing is materializing,” Hill said. “We still continued to pursue it.”

Two years ago, Hill presented his proposal at the national convention in Cincinnati, and then again at last year’s convention in Baltimore. He said national members of the NAACP liked what they saw on a site visit to San Antonio – a friendly city with lots to do outside the convention center.

However, with a black population of less than 7 percent, San Antonio is considered an unusual pick for the NAACP. Regardless, the city’s welcoming environment and high engagement levels among chapter members won convention officials over, Hill said.

Despite having a small black population, San Antonio repeatedly has one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches across the country. Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP’s board of directors, previously described the San Antonio branch as one of the nation’s “most active.”

“We told the [national NAACP] about the different culture we have here,” Hill said. “We know we try to resolve our issues without making a big hullabaloo through the news media and everyplace else…San Antonio is a nice and warm kind of place.”

Hill also emphasized his strong relationship with local law enforcement, telling convention organizers that if issues arose during the national convention, “San Antonio’s justice department would communicate and get them resolved quickly.”

After the national NAACP chose San Antonio for its 109th convention, local members started fundraising the required $200,000 in seed money to cover infrastructure and general production costs.

Hill’s wife, Minnie Mabry Hill, paved the way in this effort, chairing the local branch’s convention committee and fundraising the amount with help from the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court, City government, and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Minnie passed away in May, but many credit her with making the national convention possible.

“My wife was the leader in it all,” Hill said. “Everything I do, I always run by my wife, and she was excited about the convention. That drove us forward.”

San Antonio NAACP Chapter President Oliver Hill during the meeting discussing the future of Ella Austin Community Center.
San Antonio NAACP Chapter President Oliver Hill (left) sits next to his late wife and NAACP convention Chair Minnie Hill during a discussion about the Ella Austin Community Center on June 20, 2017. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The convention opens Saturday at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and will feature local artist showcases, conversations with authors, continuing legal education for attorneys, and workshops that focus on civic engagement. More information about the schedule can be found here.

Speakers will include actor Anthony Anderson, journalist Roland Martin, U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), and others.

Hill is most excited about Tuesday workshops that will focus on civic engagement, criminal justice, and economics. He hopes people will walk away from the sessions with a renewed passion to advocate for their rights and feeling of empowerment.

After close to a decade at the helm of his local NAACP branch, and many more years as an active member, Hill estimates he has attended 10 to 15 national conventions.

“Each one you go to, you talk about some of the same issues,” he said. “Discrimination is one thing, police misconduct, you talk about unfair treatment in the work place, school inequities. And each year you try to come up with something different that you haven’t done before.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.