“We need something to boost us up”

Betty Tarver, 76, in her home near the AT&T Center on San Antonio’s East Side. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO

When Betty and Floyd Tarver moved into the Harvard Place-Eastlawn neighborhood on San Antonio’s East Side in 1962, Betty was the only white person on their block. Germans built most of the homes on her street, says Betty, but by the time she and Floyd arrived, the area was predominantly African American. “Imagine that, at that time,” she says—an interracial couple purchasing a home on the East Side six years before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

That act prevented housing discrimination based on race. It repaired the law, but not the land—San Antonio remained strongly segregated along racial and economic lines, as much of it continues to be today.

Betty and Floyd first met at San Antonio’s Navy Club downtown. He was a bartender, and Betty and a girlfriend would visit late at night to drink and flirt. “When he was young, honey, he was pretty,” she says.  

“And you couldn’t tell what he was—if he was Hispanic or black. I remember asking somebody, ‘What nationality is he?’ She said, ‘He said he’ll be whatever you want him to be.’”

Betty and Floyd loved to road trip. Through the 1960s, they had to be careful about where they stayed, where they ate, where they went dancing. Some places would let a mixed-race couple come in, but not dance. Some hotels would only permit entry if Betty made the reservation while Floyd waited in the car.

But when they were home on San Antonio’s East Side, Betty was the exception, not her husband. She remains the exception today, though the neighborhood demographics have shifted yet again. “This half of the street is Hispanic, and that half is black,” she says, pointing outside.

Most of the homeowners are gone; the street neighborhood consists mostly of renters, and she can’t say who owns the homes anymore. She thinks the area’s drug problems are improving, especially since the Wheatley Courts housing projects were demolished to make room for the new mixed-income development known as East Meadows.

“I was thrilled to death to get rid of the Courts,” says Betty. But skepticism is in the air, too. “People in the neighborhood say, ‘I’ll give it two years. Then it’ll look just like it used to look.’”

I ask Betty, who is 76 today, about the pace of change in her 55 years on the East Side. She takes a drag of her Pall Mall, looks up at the ceiling, sighs. Some good things are happening, and “the mayor has been good to us.” Still, there’s a persistent feeling: “They don’t do much on the East Side. It’s just like the West Side. Where minorities live, you’re not going to get what everybody else gets.”

Floyd died in 2003, and in most of their 41 years in the home together, they never had paved streets, sidewalks or proper drainage. Whenever it rained, she said, “Water stood everywhere. We spent many, many hours sitting in cars [on Houston Street] waiting for the water to go down so we could go home.”

But 2003 was the same year that “the Spurs came in” via the nearby AT&T Center and brought with them fresh infrastructure. “That’s the first time we had any help at all. We had no sidewalks, no curbs, none of that good stuff, until the Spurs came in.”

It’s been 15 years since the Spurs came in, and not much more has changed near Betty’s home. But she’s hearing rumbles of more change coming to Houston Street around the AT&T Center now, and she likes the rumbles. “Every time you turn the damn TV on, it’s killing, stabbing,” she says. “We need something to boost us up.”

Faces of San Antonio is an occasional series at Folo Media. Write to info@folomedia.org with ideas and suggestions.

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