Martin Luther King Jr. Day
10:52 am
Tue January 22, 2013

Restaurateur First To Integrate In San Antonio Desegregation Movement

San Antonio's role in the desegregation movement began with a man who stood up and decided his restaurant would no longer treat people differently based on the color of their skin.

In 1963, Dan Anthony bought his father’s Manhattan Café downtown on Houston Street, near the Majestic Theatre. It was that same year when Anthony’s wife, Chrissy, says a priest and activist by the name of Father Sherrill Smith called Dan with an important message.

"'Dan, there's going to be a sit-in in your restaurant on Christmas Day.' And I don't know if it was right then and there but he got the message back to Father Smith that on Christmas Day he would be integrated," she said.

That movement started a revolution in the Alamo City. Chrissy said Dan then called up other local restaurateurs to let them know what was going on.

"He called Earl Abel and Bob Luby," said Chrissy of her husband's competitors who ran Luby's and Earl Abel's, "and he told them what he was going to do and they both told him, 'Dan, we're right behind you.' The time was ready. It was time."

The monumental change happened the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

50 years later, the remembrance of King and his work to bring equality is celebrated.

"I think it's the most beautiful thing that we do in this country," said Chrissy. "I think it was long overdue, and the man was such a beautiful human being. How can you not admire him and his works?"

The Anthony family went on to open the Sea Island Shrimp House restaurants in San Antonio. The first of them, on Rector, started two years after the integration of the old Manhattan Café.

"I was, I was proud. I was proud of Dan," Chrissy said. "We all know how terrible it was to treat our brothers and sisters in that manner."