A Stand Against Discrimination

The Texas Story Project.

This story was told by Robert B. O'Connor, Ph.D, Director of the Saint John's Bible, Associate Professor, University Ombudsman, Department of Theology, St. Mary's University.

In 1968 I was teaching at Providence High School which is a small catholic girls high school here in San Antonio. I was teaching religion and I think it was the afternoon section I had. They were all sophomores and I’m still in touch with some. I've buried some. I gave some away in marriage, all sorts of stuff. But at that time, San Antonio was wrestling with whether to establish an open housing act. Open housing was a problem in many cities in the United States. If you wanted to buy a house in neighborhood x, y, or z, people could refuse to sell you that house because you looked wrong or talked wrong or whatever.Total discrimination, that’s what it was about.

The argument that people gave for not supporting open housing came from the real estate lobby. The real estate lobby said, "We'll support open housing because we want to sell houses to everybody. But the people who come to us, our clients, don't support open housing." So I was telling that to the kids and they were, god love them, they were good kids, they were frosted. "That's not fair!" Sophomores in high school tend to flip their heads a little when they talk. "That's just not fair. It's unfair." And nintey-five percent of them were Hispanic. I had a couple of black kids, not many. But anyways, it was very unfair. And so I said, "I agree it's not fair. What could be done about it?" I didn’t have a plan in mind, but I had an idea.

So we agreed that what could be done would be to find people to say they support open housing and that would disable the realtors' claim. So that led to a city-wide petition campaign coming out of this one little classroom in a small catholic girls school. And these kids went out to malls and stores and churches all over and they got signatures from people who said yeah, they support open housing. They would come back with stories like, "You know we went to the mall and some of the guys from high school signed their name "Mickey Mouse". What should we do about that?" I said what I would do about it is look right in their eyes, say, "Thank you for your support," and cross out the name.

These kids just grew up, they just grew up. Anyways, by the time city council had the open hearing on the open housing, the realtors said, "Well, we're for open housing, but clients aren't," and stuff like that. And I had signatures (I don’t really remember the number but it was in the tens of thousands) that were produced that I dumped on desks and other cities followed us.

For a brief time, San Antonio had the most active open housing law in the nation. I thought that was a really cool thing, showing what girls could do in a time when it wasn't encouraged as much as it is now.

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