Southtown street will be designated as Emma Tenayuca Memorial Way to honor civil rights leader

Emma Tenayuca is most known for leading the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike 85 years ago

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council on Thursday approved the Emma Tenayuca Memorial Way in Southtown to honor the labor and civil rights leader.

The stretch of road dedicated to Tenayuca will be located on Cevallos Street from Interstate 35 to Probandt Street.

“This is an important first step in giving fair recognition of the Mexican American and Chicano experiences inextricably linked to the 300-year history of San Antonio,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a news release. “I want to thank Councilwoman Teri Castillo, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and MACRI for their leadership in the effort to properly memorialize San Antonio’s heritage starting with honoring Emma Tenayuca’s legacy.”

Nirenberg and Castillo announced in November that they co-wrote a council consideration request seeking the designation, with support from the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute.

They said they wanted to commemorate Tenayuca’s legacy as a union organizer, educator and civil rights hero in San Antonio.

Tenayuca, born in 1916, began her activism as a teen when she was inspired to join women who were striking against the H.W. Finck Cigar Company in 1933.

She graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1934 and led protests against economic and labor issues regarding the Mexican community and women.

She is most known for leading the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike of 1938. At the time, plant owners cut wages, which already averaged just $1 a week, according to the Smithsonian.

About 12,000 employees walked out of the plant, and Tenayuca led their efforts by organizing pickets, handing out flyers and feeding workers who were on strike. The Smithsonian said police arrested more than 1,000 workers during the strike, often using tear gas and billy clubs to threaten them.

The Texas Industrial Commission eventually investigated the grievances, and employees were eventually paid the minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act was established that year, creating the right to a minimum wage, overtime pay and child labor laws.

In 1991, Tenayuca was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.

“Today is an extremely special day – as we have seized on the opportunity to honor one of San Antonio’s own labor and civil rights champion in Emma Tenayuca,” Castillo said. “The memorial way must serve as a reminder to carry on her vision of social and economic justice for San Antonio.”

MACRI Executive Director Dr. Sarah Gould added, “Emma Tenayuca is one of many Mexican Americans whose bravery to speak out against injustice should forever be remembered by San Antonians and all those who travel our streets. We are grateful to the city’s leadership in recognizing the vital importance of Mexican American civil rights history and offering a path to increase the visibility of this undertold history. We hope Emma Tenayuca Memorial Way is the first of a series of memorial ways to highlight our city’s rich history.”

The District 5 office is hosting a celebration of the 85th anniversary of the Pecan-Shellers’ Strike at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Cassiano Park, 1728 Potosi St.

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About the Author

Rebecca Salinas is an award-winning digital journalist who joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.

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