Claude Black

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Rev. Claude Black

Rev. Claude W. Black, Jr. , died 2009, was a San Antonio activist and clergyman. He became an associate of such leaders as A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., James Farmer, Ella Baker and others

Black supported the efforts of San Antonio SNCC, after a massive demonstration against police brutality in downtown San Antonio and an armed attack on the SNCC office. He allowed use of the church for meetings of the San Antonio Committee to Free Angela Davis, SNCC-Panther meetings, and allowed members of the SNCC-Panthers opportunities to raise funds at the church on Sunday.


Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Rev. Black would led and organize marches throughout the state. He challenged the establishment for their unfair treatment of minorities in the city. He became an associate of such leaders as Dr. Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall and many others. As a local ally to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Black was present for the White House Conference on Civil Rights in 1966. He endured many threats to himself, his family and even his church. A drive-by shooting occurred on his home as well as his church was burned in 1974 with no suspects ever being charged.

He served four terms of the San Antonio City Council 1973-1978 and became the city’s First Black Mayor Pro Tem. Black has founded several community groups as well as the city’s first black credit union.

Black served as pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church in San Antonio for 1949-1998 and as pastor emeritus since.

Black was born in San Antonio in 1916 to local Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters vice president Claude Black, Sr.and Cora Black.

In 1933 he graduated from Douglass High School. Enrolls at St. Philip’s College and transfers two years later to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he earned bachelor’s degree in 1937. After graduation, he sold insurance for three years in Marshall and San Antonio.

In 1940he began studies at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. In 1943 he earned a master’s degree in divinity from Andover Newton and returned to San Antonio, where he began Sunday services in the Cameo Theater.

In 1945 he founded the San Antonio Mother’s Service Organization, the first black group of Christian women to receive a Texas state charter for a local club. he then moved to Corpus Christi to serve as pastor of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church.

In 1949 he began ministry at Mount Zion First Baptist Church.[1]

Civil rights

Black began civil rights activism in the 1950s. Throughout the late 1950’s and 1960’s, he along with his best friend State Representative G.J. Sutton and Harry Burns were leading and organizing marches throughout the state.[2]

March 13, 1960, black addressed an anti-segregation rally, along with the president of San Antonio’s NAACP branch, and gave the city an ultimatum: integrate lunch counters by the 17th or prepare for sit-down protests. With the help of a group of local leaders, the counters were integrated by the 16th, and San Antonio becomes the first major city in the South to do so without demonstrations.[3]


In 1963 and 1965, Black ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council.

In 1973 he gained the backing of the Good Government League and was elected to the City Council, where he served until 1977. He supported independent Charles Becker for mayor. In return, Becker appointed him the city’s first black mayor pro-tem.[4]

Later activism

iN 1984 Black started New Community Builders, a corporation to help East Side families find suitable housing and assist them with financing.

In 1989, he was hosen to chair San Antonio’s annual Martin Luther King celebration.

In 1993 the City Council voted to rename the Eastside Multi-Service Center at 2805 E. Commerce St. in his honor.

In 1995, he was appointed a delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Aging by President Bill Clinton.

In, 1998, he detires from ministry at Mount Zion First Baptist Church on May 1.[5]

FBI file

Black attended a demonstration in front of the Alamo protesting the violence in Selma, Ala., in March 1965; said a prayer the following year at an event to protest the shooting of James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi; and was referred to more than once as "the Martin Luther King Jr. of San Antonio."

Along the way, the Rev. Claude William Black Jr. accumulated a file with the Federal Bureau of Investigation of more than 832 pages.

The file, was released in redacted form in 2010, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Black - 92 when he died March 13, 2009 - never was the subject of an FBI investigation. The file was described in a 1970 memorandum as "merely a repository for information about Black coming to San Antonio's attention."

That same memo referred to a note in the file from 1956, the author of which was not identified:

"It is not believed that Reverend Claude W. Black is a Communist Party member or sympathizer. He is a well-known champion of Negro rights. He is the pastor of the Mt. Zion First Baptist Church. He is a friend of John Inman and has worked with him on occasion; however, it is believed that Black's interest is in the rights of the Negro people."

That jibes with the recollection of Taj Matthews, Black's grandson. Matthews said Tuesday that Black once told him Inman, a well-known East Side barber who died in 1996, was a communist, but that he was not to tell anyone.

The FBI file indicates Inman, also a legendary local activist, was chairman of the Communist Party of Texas in 1970.

A second-hand recounting of the episode involving Langston Hughes, told by a man named Harry Koger at a meeting attended by the informant, varies slightly from the version Black occasionally related.

It tells of the City Council's decision, on Feb. 24, 1952, to rescind the use of the San Antonio Library Auditorium for use by Hughes, the internationally known African American poet, who was alleged at the time to be a communist sympathizer.

According to the version in the FBI file, an elderly attorney at the meeting referred to Black as "that pink" n-word.

He called off a protest of a 1968 visit to San Antonio by Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who was then running for president, after a shooting at Fiesta earlier that year. Black and the other organizers feared the protesters might be blamed if violence erupted.

In May of that year, after the King assassination and the death of a man named Bobby Joe Phillips during an arrest by local police, the informant told FBI agents "that responsible Negroes in the community have lost control of the leadership of this small group of militant Negroes, who are demanding that something be done regarding the killing of Phillips."

"Informant stated that the only possible individual that could attempt to control these few militant Negroes is Rev. Claude Black."

Black's circle of friends, some heavily monitored by the local FBI office, included attorney Herschel Bernard, father of current City Attorney Michael Bernard, who never was identified as a communist but whose house came under FBI surveillance in 1960 for reasons that aren't made clear.

Black crossed paths with numerous other legendary figures, including Maury Maverick, Jr., Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and Cesar Chavez.

There's almost nothing in the file about Black's election to the City Council, where he served as the city's first black mayor pro tem. The latter half of the file is focused intently on a local effort in support of the campaign to free Angela Davis, the California activist and college professor who was jailed for her role in a courthouse shooting, though she later was acquitted of all charges.

Black proclaimed her innocence at a 1971 rally at Villita Assembly Building. Rosie Castro, the mother of Mayor Julian Castro and state Rep. Joaquin Castro, attended that meeting, too.

At an earlier gathering of the San Antonio Committee to Free Angela Davis, according to the FBI informant's notes, Rosie Castro "was observed buying two small posters of Angela Davis for 50 cents each, which were mentioned by Rosie Castro as having been printed in Cuba."

Later, Black made his church available for one of the committee's meetings, though he didn't stay.[6]

"Free Angela Davis"

Rev. Claude Black was very active over the years, in San Antonio, helping to radicalize many. His influence helped to bring together a multi-ethnic coalition of individuals attempting to free black activist Angela Davis, including executing a local petition campaign signed by black State Representative G.J. Sutton, and local activists Franklin "Tortillas" Garcia, Rosie Castro, Albert Pena, Jr., John Inman, and others.[7]

People’s World, June 12, 1971, covered the meeting “!,500 in San Antonio at Free Angela meeting."

“San Antonio, Texas—The first mass rally and dance for Angela Davis in the Southwest was a smashing success here May 23 as some 1,500 persons attended.

David Poindexter, main speaker of the evening, termed the rally and dance the most successful he had yet seen.

“First speaker for the evening, Rev. C. W. Black, Jr., pastor of the Mt Zion First Baptist Church, was followed by Franklin Garcia, international representative of the Amalgamated Meatcutters and Butcher Workmen’s Union.

“Seated on the platform were Carlos Richardson, Texas co-ordinator of Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee and chairman of the San Antonio Committee to Free Angela Davis; Raul Rodriguez, publisher of Chicano Times, and Rosie Castro, both candidates for City Council; G.J. Sutton and John Inman, black community leaders; John Stanford, Communist party spokesman; Mario Cantu, Chicano businessman; Mrs Manuela Sager, and David Plylar.

“Poindexter dealt with the August 7 shoot-out at the Marin County Courthouse, used as the excuse for Angela Davis’ subsequent imprisonment. He said Davis ‘didn’t know about Jonathan Jackson’s attempt; didn’t give Jonathan any guns; and had she known, she would have stopped Jonathan. Angela knew that the only defense we have is organizing people.’


  1. [., Claude and Zernona Black Foundation bio, accessed July 2013]
  2. Applause Foundation bio, accessed July 2013
  3. [., Claude and Zernona Black Foundation bio, accessed July 2013]
  4. [., Claude and Zernona Black Foundation bio, accessed July 2013]
  5. [., Claude and Zernona Black Foundation bio, accessed July 2013]
  6. My SanAntonio, FBI file on Rev. Black is chapter in city's history, BY JOSEPH S. STROUD : OCTOBER 5, 2010
  7. [ African-American news and issues, Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement Turns 90 This Year, 2006/09/13]