For San Antonio graduate student Gwyn Hartung, a single plaque in a park downtown dedicated to San Antonio-born labor activist Emma Tenayuca just isn’t cutting it.
She’s launched a petition to change that.
Hartung, 23, is a student at St. Mary’s University pursuing her master’s in public history. As part of her graduate studies capstone project — a project students must complete to graduate that usually encompasses real-life uses of their academic studies — Hartung first launched a petition to change the name of Beauregard Street in King William to Emma Tenayuca Street.
After learning more about the street’s namesake and getting pushback from the neighborhood association, she’s updated her petition and widened her efforts to bring greater recognition to the woman who led the San Antonio pecan shellers strike in 1938, when she was just 21 years old.
Hartung told the San Antonio Report she originally set out to get the name of Beauregard Street changed because she and one of her professors believed that the street, located in the King William district, was named for Pierre Gustave Toutant “P.G.T.” Beauregard, the Confederate general who helped launch the American Civil War by leading the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
“We thought it was named after the Confederate general, but found it’s actually named after his family members, who were slave owners in San Antonio,” Hartung said. “The King William Association said that they will not be supporting a name change … [and we would] totally need their support to do so.”
After finding out about the petition from a forwarded email, the King William Association publicly objected to the name change in its weekly newsletter, noting the street was named for local landowner Augustine Felis Toutant Beauregard, not Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, said John Doski, vice-president of the association.
While the association supports the naming of a street or “place of some importance” for Emma Tenayuca in San Antonio, it would not want to see Beauregard Street renamed, Doski said.
In its newsletter, the association explained that Augustine Beauregard was a brother of the Confederate general, but in his petition to Andrew Johnson for amnesty, Beauregard states that he did not vote for secession and that he provided only minimal support to the Confederacy.
The newsletter goes on to say there had in fact been two streets named for Confederate generals in the King William District in the 19th century: Ewell, now Guenther Street, and Lee, now Sheridan Street. Both were renamed to honor local businessmen in the 1890s.
“If Beauregard had been named after the Confederate General instead of an important local landowner, the street name most likely would have been changed at that time,” the newsletter states. “King William had a large German population by the 1890’s and Texas Germans were fairly vocal anti-secessionists and anti-slavery and would certainly have objected to these Confederate names, hence the name changes.”
After speaking with some of the association board members about the misunderstanding, Hartung decided to broaden her petition; it now seeks to see any San Antonio street renamed for her, or to see a permanent monument erected in her honor.
“Public history is all about flexibility and because the support of the KWA is paramount to getting the street name changed I have decided to pivot and change course,” Hartung wrote in her updated petition letter. “I am changing the petition to ask the city council to support the creation and installation of a permanent monument to Emma Tenayuca.”
As of Oct. 27, the petition has received about 330 signatures. Hartung first launched it in September.
Hartung said she came to strongly admire Tenayuca after learning about her in a graduate-level American West and Borderlands class. A labor leader, union organizer, and educator, Tenayuca is best known for helping lead the pecan shellers strike.
The young activist was first arrested at age 16 while at a protest, then twice more in her early adulthood: once during a nonviolent protest, and again for her leadership role in the pecan shellers strike.
Born in San Antonio on Dec. 21, 1916, Tenayuca and her family lived on the West Side. The Brackenridge High School and Our Lady of the Lake University alumna has inspired other Chicana activists.
The only official recognition of her in San Antonio is a plaque installed in Milam Park in 2011.
It’s unclear what it might take to get a street renamed after Tenayuca. Hartung has yet to reach out to members of the San Antonio City Council, although she said she plans to do so.
The 2011 effort by then-Councilman Phil Cortez to rename Durango Boulevard to César E. Chávez Boulevard prompted controversy; the San Antonio Conservation Society even filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to stop it. After a judge cleared the way, a split City Council voted to rename the street.
Gwyn, who moved to San Antonio in 2016, long after the controversy, appears to be more focused on a possible monument. In her updated petition letter, she calls on local artists “to submit proposals for a permanent monument to Emma Tenayuca and her commitment to the community. Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Hartung told the San Antonio Report she plans to close the petition on Jan. 31, 2022 in honor of the pecan shellers strike, which began on Jan. 31, 1938.
“The fact that [Emma] had that much strength and courage at such a young age is incredibly inspiring,” Hartung said. “She hasn’t gotten as much attention as she really should have.”