contentious trolley strike. Its iconThe Veiled Prophetwas tarted up in a white robe, full-face mask and peaked cap, and was heavily armed, packing a club, pistol, and two shotguns. “It will be readily observed from [these] accoutrements,” The Missouri Republican observed, “that the procession is not likely to be stopped by streetcars or anything else.” It didn’t take a Klansman to know which way the wind was blowing. To sweep the streets of contenders to elite dominance, city after city passed legislation that required permits for parades or demonstrations, limiting their number, activities, and import. As for spontaneous outbursts in parks and avenues, they were met, as were wildcat strikes in factories and sweatshops, by police swinging billy clubs and militia advancing with fixed bayonets.Those who controlled the state were registering their clout in uniquely dramatic ways. s an Antonioa city long noted for its ceremonial displaysis an appropriate locale in which to examine this larger history of parades and power, and Judith Berg Sobre’s new book is a careful, detailed, and lov ing reconstruction of six of the community’s civic festivals of the late 19th century; just how careful is evident in the demographic balance of events she assesses, including the Fourth of July, Juneteenth, Diez y Seis, Columbus Day, Volkfests, and two upper-class Anglo celebrations,The Battle of Flowers and Spring Carnival \(which later morphed into Fiesta, a fortlution to broader social trends, and to the “contemporaneous infancy of the American pageant movement, with its emphasis on patriotism and culture as expressed in spectacle,” that comparative focus is often lost amid reams of undifferentiated data designed to reinforce her reasonable claim that these festivals “are a feast for the senses.” To capture their impact on marcher and observer, Sobre, who has read every relevant newspaper account and scanned extant documentary and visual evidence, sets her readers within the pungent odors of cooked food, human sweat, and horse manure that hung over the parade routes. We hear the shouts of approval as the decorated wagons and crude floats rolled past the reviewing stands. And at the opening and closing ceremonies we flinch at the sharp crack of cannonade and the din of drum and horn. Pursuing this “inside out” look is critical to Sobre’s goal of adopting “the views and prejudices of both celebrators and viewers,” which, she notes, “is the way the culture was both understood and reflected at the time.” No doubt. But there are moments when the author seems trapped in the minutia she has so richly recovered, and this hinders her from offering a compelling outside perspective on why San Antonians put their best face forward when in formation they strode down the city’s dusty streets. One such instance involves those pageants Sobre decided not to evaluate in San Antonio on Parade. “Some of the city’s … smaller ethnic groups were excluded from this exploration,” she notes, “because their festivals \(when they had have been included, for it is on the basis of such differences that historians are able to throw into sharp relief what appears normative. Local Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations offered up one such golden opportunity. In San Antonio, the Irish marked the holiday “with a procession culminating in a solemn mass,” Sobre writes, a religious sensibility that contrasted with “the raucous parades seen in the Northern and Eastern United States.” This striking distinction cries out for close analysis that would have given us a deeper appreciation of what distinguished one set of Irish celebrants from another, one urban experience from another. All is not lost, for those parades that Sobre scrutinizes reveal in various degrees how they functioned within Darton’s urban idiom. While none of the fin-de-siecle celebrations in San Antonio erupted in bloody conflict, as occurred in more industrialized cities to its north \(yet another conundrum and segregated as those elsewhere. The Fourth of July, for instance, evolved from “a more unified civic holiday” to more “diverse group celebrations.” These did not strictly coalesce around factors of race and ethnicity, but it is instructive that the 1900 parade only included participants from a narrow band of the communitythe fire department, city and county leaders, and military units and veterans. Later, the citizenry separately enjoyed the day. A large crowd gathered at San Pedro Springs for the requisite orations, athletic contests, and nighttime bonfire; Catholics celebrated the nation’s birthday at Riverside Park; African Americans partied at Connor’s Grove, where they listened to speeches and cheered on their athletes. As in earlier years, those Blacks who attended the San Pedro Springs 1900 ceremonies did not mix with white revelers. Just so with Juneteenth, a commemoration of the emancipation of African Americans from slavery; prominent whites who attended sat at a “whites only” table. Ethnic divides were just as pronounced. Volkfests signaled the German community’s powerful presence in the city’s political life and social whirl. Diez y Seis and Columbus Day celebrants made their bid for inclusion in the Americanizing town. As for African Americans, their presence in these parades of ethnic pride recapitulated their social standing in the demeaning positions they occupied on allegorical floats.Which is why Sobre’s more upbeat conclusion is puzzling. San Antonio was not a city of “independent, closed circles at all,” she argues, but is best understood “as a fascinating tapestry, of very uneven weave some subsidiary patterns intersecting, some twined together and even sharing threads, and others autonomous… but all making up one clearly articulated festive fabric, identifying this particular municipality in its place and time.” The metaphor dazzles, but it is also a stretch. San Antonio on Parade may give equal space to the community’s many different pageants, but there was considerably less equality in its everyday life and civil rites. Contributing writer Char Miller is chair of the history department at Trinity University, and editor of On the Border:An Environmental History of San Antonio. 9/12/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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