History Untold: A San Antonio neighborhood next to wealthy suburb

Once a blighted area, Kenwood was home to servants’ families

SAN ANTONIO – Just west of McCullough Avenue, across from the elegant homes in Olmos Park, is the Kenwood neighborhood, a once blighted area of sub-standard shotgun houses and unpaved streets.

“These neighborhoods’ status and standing could not be more disparate, probably the greatest in the city,” wrote Char Miller, a former Trinity University historian, in his book, “Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas.”

Bordered on the east and west by McCullough and San Pedro Avenue, to the north and south by Wildwood and Olmos Drive, Kenwood was home to the servants working for the wealthy families in Olmos Park.

“You were treated as a servant. You were not part of the family,” said Dee Goforth, who grew up in Kenwood.

Goforth, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, is an academic program coordinator at St. Philip’s College, where she also teaches.

She said her mother cleaned houses at one time, but she went on to become one of the top black civil service employees at Kelly Air Force Base.

Dorothy Sawyers, a retired plans and data specialist at USAA, said her mother, a housekeeper in Olmos Park, would say of her employers, “Don’t get in their business.”

Yet, both Goforth and Sawyers said their parents had high hopes for their children.

“They didn’t expect us to fail. You had to succeed,” Sawyers said.

Goforth said she was often reminded, “You’re representing your race. It was always you’re representing your race.”

Although for a time Blacks and Hispanics attended different schools, Sawyers said, “We had Hispanics, Blacks and Japanese living here.”

In spite of any hardship their families may have experienced, Sawyers said there was a sense of community in Kenwood.

“It was fun because everyone knew everyone,” Sawyers said. “We’d sell hot dogs, cake and punch, and kids of all races would come.”

They said urban renewal brought needed changes thanks to residents organizing the Kenwood Community Council to push for additional improvements, like a park and a senior center.

Goforth said the late mayor Lila Cockrell and former mayor and retired county judge Nelson Wolff were among Kenwood’s strongest allies.

“They worked tirelessly to uplift the community,” she said.

Up until then, they said Kenwood had been ignored as stated in a report prepared by the Kenwood Community Council.

“Except for Head Start, the poverty warriors in Bexar County agencies have not seen fit to engage the enemy in one of its strongholds,” the report stated.

Yet eventually, Sawyers and Goforth said the neighborhood began to improve.

Goforth pointed out, “The blacks bought their homes. Home ownership was an expectation instead of just renting.”

The daughter of a baggage handler at a bus station and a housekeeper, Sawyers said her father added on to their little home and was able to buy other neighboring properties.

Decades later, families still live in those homes behind the small businesses that line McCullough Ave.

Sawyers said knowing the history and evolution of Kenwood, “has made appreciate where I am today because I know where I came from.”

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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.

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