SPC's Blockbuster Connection

September 13, 2018

Public Information Officer


When most people think of Blockbusters today, a former video rental chain comes to mind. But as a recent obituary reveals, when a late former St. Philip's College adjunct professor of mathematics thought of Blockbusters in his capacity as the first African-American appointed as Municipal Judge for the City of San Antonio---and the first male African-American admitted to the law school at St. Mary’s University---the term Blockbusters meant change of an entirely transformational magnitude in San Antonio and most of the rest of the United States.

Changes of a level worthy to note as San Antonio observes its Tricentennial. Or any other day for that matter, as his life touched at least half of the six pillars of the Tricentennial: religion, history and education, and community service.

The faculty member was Clarence Roy McGowan (1921-2018), remembered in a revealing obituary and an equally revealing oral history video filmed earlier in the city's Tricentennial year.

The Bryan native moved to San Antonio in 1945, and according to his recent online obituary, "He set his sights on success. Although he grew up a tenth of a mile from Texas A&M, blacks were only allowed to work there. He did work as a caddy until it was time to go to college."

McGowan was a rising A-Plus mid-century addition to the St. Philip's College faculty recruited by saint and college President Emeritus Artemisia Bowden. The obituary deftly traces McGowan’s journey as he became an alumnus of Prairie View A&M, an unspecified university in Iowa where he received a master of science in industrial engineering,Our Lady of the Lake University where he received a master of science in guidance and counseling, The University of Texas---and St. Mary’s University where he received his doctorate of jurisprudence. From 1945-1958, he served as a principal at Dunbar High School and vice-principal at Phyllis Wheatley High School with the San Antonio Independent School District in addition to teaching mathematics at St. Philip’s College. He began law school in 1958 as the first male African-American admitted, attending four nights a week from 1958-1963. He studied weekends with a classmate in the law offices of Pat Maloney, “and was admitted to practice before all State and District Courts, all Federal District Courts and the Supreme Courts of Texas, practicing law from 1963-2005 specializing in criminal law, real estate, oil and gas and probate,” according to his online obituary.

McGowan was a legal representative for the NAACP on civil rights cases nationwide. He fought segregation in the medical community, from Brown vs. Board of Education and ethnic integration in San Antonio schools to real estate, desegregation in San Antonio and voting rights.

"As more opportunities were created for African American attorneys during and after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and early 70’s, more attorneys were moving into San Antonio. They came from chapters of Black American Law Students Association (BALSA) to a city that did not have a chapter," according to the obituary. "Clarence was aware of the need for African-American representation in politics, in community affairs and in professional organizations. Already he had a reputation for organizing and motivating, in 1978 the formation of a bar association addressing the needs and interest of African-Americans was discussed. Clarence McGowan was elected Temporary Chair, a title he held for several months, until he was elected President of the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association, SABLA.”

A mentor and a leader, the obituary documents that "Clarence led SABLA, promoted their practices, networked and encouraged members to apply for judicial and staff vacancies in the courthouse. Clarence, himself, was elected Justice of the Peace in Bexar County Precinct No. 4 and the first African-American to be appointed as Municipal Judge for the City of San Antonio in 1974."

"Since real estate law was his favorite, Clarence was a member of “Blockbusters”, a group of blacks who purchased homes in white neighborhoods after the 1964 court decision prohibiting race-based restrictions in real estate transactions. When one white person sold a home to Blockbusters, a black family could move into the neighborhood," the recent obituary documents. 

Even in retirement, McGowan continued to give back.

"After retirement, Clarence was a wealth of knowledge to various non-profits and to SABLA. With a quiet elegance he offered suggestions and advice. Clarence held lifetime memberships in Optimist International, NAACP, San Antonio Bar Association, national Bar Association, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a charter member of Gamma Phi Boule’ of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He also served on many boards including San Antonio City Water Board, San Antonio City Board of Adjustment, San Antonio Zoning Commission, the United Way, Texas State Teachers Association, Planned Parenthood, Trinity University Humanistic Review, Welcome Home for the Blind and Aged, Legal Regress Committee, Alamo Computer Society, St. Mary’s Alumni Association and Star Tom Lodge #100. Accolades and awards were numerous, including the African American Business Achievement Award, the City of San Antonio Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Distinguished Achievement Award, the NAACP Living Legends Award and the San Antonio Queen of Soul Robert Washington Pioneer Award.” his obituary states.

McGowan is survived by his daughter and granddaughter, in addition to numerous cousins. In lieu of flowers, the family recommends donations to: NAACP Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 200225, San Antonio, Texas 78220 or Gamma Phi Boule’ of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, The Boule’ Foundation of San Antonio, Inc., P.O. Box 461547, San Antonio, Texas 78246 or the San Antonio Black Lawyers Association.

Read the e-obituary on the late high-achieving faculty member at the MeadowLawn Cemetery web page. View the interview with McGowan at The African American Network 300 Voices in 300 Days commemorative video series that includes such noted personalities with college ties as Dr. Marie Pannell Thurston, author of the definitive book on the history of St. Philip's College and the late college honorary degree recipient Ossie Davis.