BELLINGER, VALMO CHARLES
BELLINGER, VALMO CHARLES (1899–1994). Valmo Charles Bellinger, African-American newspaper publisher, community leader, and political boss in San Antonio, was born in Lockhart, Texas, on October 12, 1899, to Charles Bellinger and Celestine (Pelliman) Bellinger. He was the second of twelve children and one of only five to live to maturity. Around 1905 the family moved to San Antonio, and eventually, the Bellingers became recognized as one of San Antonio’s most influential black families.
Valmo Bellinger grew up as a devout Catholic. He attended St. Peter Claver Junior High School (now known as the Healy-Murphy Center) in San Antonio, the first Catholic school for African Americans in Texas. Then he was sent to St. Thomas Academy, in St. Paul, Minnesota, for high school. He started college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Then he attended the University of Pennsylvania, and finally Harvard University.
When Valmo completed his formal education, he returned to San Antonio, where he became an assistant to his father (and ultimately his successor). One day in 1931, Charles Bellinger asked Valmo to visit the office of the San Antonio Inquirer, the only black newspaper in town, to place a full-page ad in the paper for a political candidate that Charles was backing. The publisher, G. W. Bouldin, refused to run the ad. Valmo became enraged and said: “You just bought yourself some competition!” Thus, the San Antonio Register was born.
Valmo Bellinger opened his San Antonio Register newspaper office in the same building that housed the office of the Inquirer. He had no experience in the newspaper business, but he was able to staff the office with employees who were talented. Bellinger also hired a bookkeeper, Josephine Crawford. She was interested in learning all she could about newspaper work and had an innate curiosity and positive attitude. Within three years, the Inquirer newspaper failed. In 1939 Josephine and Valmo married. The Register became one of the most successful African-American newspapers in the Southwest. The periodical also issued an Austin edition and a Corpus Christi edition, and the paper served more than a hundred outlying towns and communities at one time or another. The maximum weekly average circulation was reported to be 12,140 copies.
Upon the death of Charles Bellinger, Valmo inherited his father’s political machine and influence. In 1941 when Maury Maverick was in the heat of a mayoral race, in a fleeting moment he referred to Valmo Bellinger as a “black baboon”; that was a watershed political blunder that very likely cost him the election. In 1959 when Bellinger was asked about his political power, he said, “I don’t tell people how to vote, I suggest. Nobody can be a political boss anymore—those days are over.” The Bellingers ran the paper for nearly half a century without missing a publishing deadline. In late 1978 a few disgruntled employees staged a walkout, causing the newspaper to falter and go into limbo for several weeks. Then Bellinger suffered two life-threatening heart attacks in 1979. Due to Valmo’s serious illness, the Bellingers were forced to sell the Register. In April 1979 they sold it to Edwin Glossen, who continued to publish the paper. That same year, Bellinger donated an archive of the San Antonio Register to the University of Texas at San Antonio’s John Peace Library. The archive consisted of 22,000 issues and offered an almost complete run of issues from 1945 to 1978. Steven Boyd, an assistant professor of history at UTSA said in 1979, “There are virtually no complete collections of black newspapers in the southwest and only two or three in the United States.”
After this serious illness, Bellinger withdrew from most of his active involvement in San Antonio politics, though he lived for many more years. Valmo Bellinger died in a nursing home on January 15, 1994, at ninety-four years of age.
Herbert J. Bailey, “Charles Bellinger and Jim Crow in San Antonio, Texas, 1905–1937,” South Texas Studies 4 (1993) (http://www.victoriacollege.edu/images/files/pubs/south_texas_studies/1993/bailey.pdf), accessed February 23, 2013. Josephine Bellinger, Interview by Dorothy Jacobson, San Antonio, August 12, 1982, Institute of Texan Cultures Oral History Program. Frank W. Jennings, “Black Leaders of 20th Century San Antonio: Bellingers, Suttons, and James,” The Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio, University of the Incarnate Word (http://www.uiw.edu/sanantonio/BlackLeaders20thc.html), accessed November 4, 2012. “Library Gains Collection,” UTSA Bulletin 7(September 1979). San Antonio Express-News, February 20, 1993; February 24, 1998; and February 25, 2003.
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Uploaded on June 12, 2013. Modified on July 15, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.