Char Miller

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San Antonio: A Tricentennial History

This is the first general history of San Antonio, Texas, the seventh largest city in the nation. Its past is complex and ranges across 300 years, from the community’s origins as a tiny Spanish frontier town to its contemporary status as a vital American mega-city. Site of some of the most violent struggles between warring empires and people—historians believe San Antonio may be the most fought-over city in U.S. history—it is perhaps most celebrated for the iconic 1836 battle of the Alamo. The city is also home to four beautifully restored Spanish missions, which in 2015 UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site and have become integral to San Antonio’s robust tourist economy, along with the fabled Riverwalk. This study weaves together a series of environmental, social, political, and cultural pressures that have shaped life in the Alamo City over the last three centuries. Residents have long fought to protect and utilize water and other resources even as they have struggled to achieve equal rights and build a more open and democratic society. Activists from all sectors of this multicultural city have believed deeply in its promise even though they have had to push hard to secure and expand its potential. Their efforts were every bit as intense in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as they have been in the twenty-first. Written for a general audience, but with a scholarly attention to detail and nuance, San Antonio: A Tricentennial History immerses readers in the city’s fascinating and fraught past.
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West Side Rising: How San Antonio's 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement

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.

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