Rev. Claude W. Black
(1916 — 2009)

Civil Rights Veterans Salute Rev. Claude W. Black
Mario Marcel Salas, March, 2009

Rev. Claude W. Black passed away on March 13, 2009 after years of serving as the Pastor of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church in San Antonio, and as a civil rights leader that served as a mentor to the entire community. Rev. Black is listed on the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement homepage as a speaker for having put the ugly face of segregation and racism before the public as he fought the system of white supremacy. Rev. Black was known not only as a great pastor who shepherded Mount Zion First Baptist for 49 years, but he is also known as a champion for civil rights dedicated to changing the lives of oppressed people.

Rev. Claude Black stood up at a time when the threat of physical harm by a racialized society was a real concern. His support of SNCC during this period was unwavering and his strong stand against police brutality eventually led to the demise of the Good Government League (GGL) and its white supremacist hold on San Antonio politics. One of the most important turning points in the history of San Antonio was the armed attack on the SNCC office in San Antonio. SAPD police forces attacked the headquarters of the organization after a massive protest in the streets of downtown San Antonio against police brutality and the brutal killing of Bobby Jo Phillips.

Through this activism, Black became a City Councilman serving the historic African American Eastside of San Antonio for four full terms. He would become the first real representative of the African American community at a time when the Good Government League (GGL) had the city locked into a system of racial segregation and oppression under the racialized Mayor Walter McAllister. This was at a time when there were no single-member districts, and racialized whites completely controlled the city. He would become a city councilman running as an independent when the GGL had a racist head lock on the city. He became a city councilman and helped to dismantle the GGL as he joined in with SNCC and other progressives fighting Mayor McAllister.

Rev. Black's grandson, Taj Matthews, notes that, "Rev. Claude W. Black is known throughout the South for his civil rights activism. During the 1950's and 1960's, he led organized marches throughout the state."

Matthews also points that Rev. Black was the first chairperson of the Social Justice Committee of Civil Rights of the American Baptist Convention, and was also president of the Baptist Minister's Union in San Antonio. I personally remember Rev. Black letting us use his church for meetings of the San Antonio Committee to Free Angela Davis, SNCC meetings, and allowing members of the SNCC-Panthers opportunities to raise funds at the church on Sunday. Rev. Black co-authored a city council resolution against the sale of the racist South African Kruggerand Gold Coin, in December of 1976, before Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Rev. C.W. Black was one of a handful of progressive religious leaders who actually protested racism in the traditions of church militancy. SNCC was one of the most militant organizations in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and actively pushed Dr. King to take many of the stands he eventually came to accept. SNCC was no different in San Antonio, but was aided by a progressive pastor who believed in the social gospel of community activism. San Antonio SNCC militants saw Rev. C.W. Black as an honest and progressive leader, and more representative of a community fighting against oppression. Rev. Black accepted his role as a social justice preacher even when it was not popular to do so. Rev. Black risked his personal safety and the safety of his family by taking on the racists of that day. There were times when Rev. Black was set up to be beaten or physically hurt, and Mt. Zion First Baptist church was burned in the 1975. History will record that Rev. Claude William Black was a warrior and fighter for the cause of human dignity. His name will never be forgotten. His work and his deeds will echo across time in the words and thoughts of future generations of fighters for justice. The Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement salute Rev. Claude W. Black for his years of struggle.


Copyright © Mario Marcel Salas, 2009

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(Labor donated)