Family History and Historic Preservation: The Lifeblood of a Public Historian

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by Eddie Paniagua

I remember the day I told my family that I was accepted into a graduate school program at St. Mary’s University.  My family was so excited and proud of me, it was a tremendous feeling.  Only later would they express their concerns about the lack of relevance of a M.A. degree in Public History.  It’s days like today that reaffirm my decision to follow my passion for historical research, and how important it is on today’s society.

At 11:12 AM this morning (July 21st, 2021), my cell phone lit up as I received a call from one of my professors, “There is a hearing today concerning the historic preservation of a house that belonged to the founder of San Antonio’s local NAACP chapter.  The San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation and KSAT 12 News are involved, can you help by doing some genealogy research before the hearing at 3PM?”

John A. Grumbles was born in 1869 in Evergreen, Texas.  He would marry Ella C. Smith and have two daughters Eleanor C. Grumbles, and Mae A. Grumbles.  As a retired postal clerk at the railroad here in San Antonio, Texas, John would be one of the 500 plus individuals to form the local NAACP chapter in 1918 and serve as the President.

Death Certificate for John A. Grumbles, 1868 | Courtesy of “Texas, U.S., Death Certificates, 1903-1982” at Ancestry.com
Newspaper article about Community House | Courtesy of San Antonio Evening News at Newspapers.com

John Grumbles was instrumental on fighting for the rights of individuals in his community, and it was a family affair.  His daughters were involved in the Community Circle Sewing Club that made garments for poor people.  John’s tenure with the San Antonio NAACP was short lived as he passed away on 30 March 1921.

As I write this at 2:00 PM on July 21st, 2021…I know that 3 hours ago I had no idea who John A Grumbles was, or his significance in our community.  Thanks to a wonderful Public History program at St Mary’s University, I was blessed with the opportunity and skill set to resurrect the past, so that a community might remember the heroes that came before them.

Thanks to the many professors that I have had the privilege of learning from, I know that both my education in Public History is relevant to today’s struggles, and my skillsets are rare and valuable in my community.  I’ve never defended my decision to join this program with my family, but today I might just tell them to turn on KSAT 12 news, and let them see for themselves how relevant and necessary Public History is.

To see what Ed Paniagua is up to, visit his Twitter, @EdLovesHistory.

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