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Bill Sinkin’s Big Love Affair (Isn’t What You Think It Is)

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

The late Bill Sinkin championed civil rights and equality.

Photo: , License: N/A

The late Bill Sinkin in his trademark bow tie. Sinkin pioneered solar energy in San Antonio.

In the heat of the Civil Rights era, Sinkin, with financial aid from pal Tom Frost of Frost Bank, built the first integrated bank on the city’s largely African-American East Side—a move that cost him backlash, but that he didn’t shy away from. In 1967, Frost generously loaned Sinkin $1 million to start up Texas State Bank, a purchase he made from the majority owner.

“He said he wanted to help the African-American community and we were pleased to be partners with him,” says Frost. “It was a great effort on his part to finally bring blacks to the table.”

In another radical move for the time period, Sinkin staffed the Eastside bank with black tellers and two black board directors. Roughly 70 percent of its clientele was black. Some who walked in threatened to close their accounts because they didn’t want “any black people” handling their money, Sinkin recalled in his memoirs, but he was undeterred.

“I was impressed by how passionate he was about the projects he took on,” Charles Williams, a retired businessman and one of the two black bank advisory directors, tells the Current. “And he appeared to be an individual who was concerned about the plight of minorities, particularly black folk out here not privy to bank loans and things like that. So, he was very gutsy.”

“He was really focused on not only growing the bank but this area of town,” Williams continued. “[The East Side] didn’t have much support; the system and the developers that really run things didn’t appear to be that interested.”

When asked to join the board of directors, Williams came up around $10,000 short of the needed funds to officially take part, as he was starting his own business and strapped for cash. Sinkin stepped in, loaning Williams the money and spurring a decades-long moral and monetary support network.

The former owner of a barbershop, restaurant and catering business, Williams gives Sinkin credit for propping him up: “Bill was there financially in most instances. I don’t think some of it would have happened had it not been for his willingness to work with me on bank loans.”

Sinkin also founded the Urban Coalition of Metropolitan San Antonio, bringing Chicano, African-American and Anglo leaders together to discuss and resolve key issues facing the community.

“There were times when ... the black and brown and white communities weren’t talking together and Bill set up an organization were we could sit and talk and deal with one another and work,” says Frost.

For instance, the organization worked to get a black marching band in the Fiesta parade when African Americans were barred from the march. One of the most serious agenda items was tackling the use of excessive force by SAPD, a particular problem in the black community. The group determined the issue was a result of a handful of bad apples tolerated by upper leadership, and once they ushered in a new police chief and ridded the department of the corrupt cops, the streets got a little more just. The group also put an end to the ‘Whipping Bridge’ on the East Side, a site where police would arrest African Americans, take them to a bridge and whip them before they booked them for trying to escape.

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