On September 9, 1921, a tropical depression stalled just north of San Antonio and within hours overwhelmed its winding network of creeks and rivers. Floodwaters ripped through the city's Latino West Side neighborhoods, killing more than eighty people. Meanwhile a wall of water crashed into the central business district on the city's North Side, wreaking considerable damage.
The city's response to this disaster shaped its environmental policies for the next fifty years, carving new channels of power. Decisions about which communities would be rehabilitated and how thoroughly were made in the political arena, where the Anglo elite largely ignored the interlocking problems on the impoverished West Side that flowed from poor drainage, bad housing, and inadequate sanitation.
Instead the elite pushed for the $1.6 million construction of the Olmos Dam, whose creation depended on a skewed distribution of public benefits in one of America's poorest big cities. The discriminatory consequences, channeled along ethnic and class lines, continually resurfaced until the mid-1970s, when Communities Organized for Public Services, a West Side grassroots organization, launched a successful protest that brought much-needed flood control to often inundated neighborhoods. This upheaval, along with COPS's emergence as a power broker, disrupted Anglo domination of the political landscape to more accurately reflect the city's diverse population. West Side Rising
is the first book focused squarely on San Antonio's enduring relationship to floods, which have had severe consequences for its communities of color in particular. Examining environmental, social, and political histories, Char Miller demonstrates that disasters can expose systems of racism, injustice, and erasure and, over time, can impel activists to dismantle these inequities. He draws clear lines between the environmental injustices embedded in San Antonio's long history and the emergence of grassroots organizations that combated the devastating impact floods could have on the West Side.
About the Author
Char Miller, formerly a professor of history at Trinity University, is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College. He is the author of the award-winning Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism, Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas, and Public Lands/Public Debates: A Century of Controversy, as well as the editor of On the Border: An Environmental History of San Antonio and Fifty Years of the Texas Observer. His most recent books for Trinity University Press are Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream and On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest. Miller is a frequent contributor to print, electronic, and social media.
Julián Castro, a lawyer and politician from San Antonio, Texas, launched his public service career in 2001, becoming the youngest councilman in the city's history. He served as mayor from 2009 to 2014, and as US secretary of housing and urban development from 2014 to 2017. He is the author of An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream.