St. Philip’s College president vividly recalls growing up in the Deep South

Dr. Adena Williams Loston endured the sting of Jim Crow

SAN ANTONIO – The president of St. Philip’s College, Dr. Adena Williams Loston, has come a long way from Vicksburg, Miss.

“I am the sum totality of everything that I have been through,” Loston said.

One of five children growing up in the Deep South, Loston said she endured the sting of Jim Crow.

“Every time I entered a public building, it was through the back door,” Loston said.

Loston said restrooms and water fountains designated “colored only” were the norm.

It wasn’t until graduate school that Loston said she was able to sit in a class with white students.

Years earlier, Loston said she attended summer classes organized by the Freedom Riders, many of them white college students from up North, who risked their lives to protest segregation.

“I can remember them throwing Molotov cocktails into the building while we were there,” she said.

When she was only ten years old, Loston said her mother gave her a stack of voter registration cards for their neighbors.

She said the fear of retaliation was why some saw her as a troublemaker because she was trying to register them to vote.

But she said her mother was persistent.

“She didn’t let me stop,” Loston said. “I had to keep going and keep finding other people to be registered to vote.

She said her father, the first black self-employed master plumber in town, also was determined to defend his family in the face of racism.

Loston said her father told her and her siblings whenever a white customer called, they were to write down the number of times he and his family were called the n-word.

“He would charge people according to the way they talked to his children, was his price,” Loston said.

She said he would tell the customer, “I have a special price just for you.”

“People thought that daddy was giving them a good deal,” she said.

But if they were polite, Loston said he would say, “No charge.”

“People didn’t know why, but we knew why,” Loston said. “We thought he was restoring our humanity.”

She said, “Daddy taught us you don’t turn down business.”

Rather than let the racism get the best of them, Loston said her father learned how to deal with it.

Now as the president of St. Philip’s, Loston said the lessons she learned have taught her the importance of inclusion.

“Ultimately, I am responsible, but making sure all of the voices are present,” Loston said.

In the Deep South back then, Loston said, “The voices were marginalized, disenfranchised or simply not valued, or being present in the room at the table.”

As an educator, Loston said she’s concerned about a generation that isn’t concerned about their history and civil rights.

“It’s only until you hit a brick wall,” she said. “Or when you’re engaging with that one narrow-minded person and you don’t have the skill sets to deal with it.”

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.