Sängerfest in San Antonio
By Anna Sutter, The University of Texas at San Antonio
In May 1854, German immigrants provoked outrage with an abolitionist platform at the Sängerfest in San Antonio. A key figure in founding the Sängerfest was August Siemering, a journalist, musician, and civic leader who believed that music was a powerful tool for bringing people together and promoting social change. The Sängerfest was a festival that not only celebrates German culture, tradition, and music, but also featured speeches by prominent German-Americans. Women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery were among the topics that were lively discussed. The first festival in New Braunfels was a huge success and attracted thousands of visitors from across Texas and beyond. It became an annual event that continued for many years promoting unity among an otherwise diverse German population. At the second Sängerfest in San Antonio, a number of delegates at the Sängerfest adopted a resolution that declared slavery as an evil and stated that it was the responsibility of the states to abolish it. The group that initiated the resolution were well-educated Germans from Siemering's home settlement of Sisterdale. Siemering writes that "the influence that the life and character of the Sisterdale settlement exerted on the surrounding areas was decidedly favorable for the moral and the liberal development. The abolitionist sentiment soon found ground among the German population, and a bond with the surrounding areas was formed which stood the test of later and more serious years." (Der Deutsche Pionier 1878, p. 61)
Despite its many successes, the Sängerfest faced opposition from some members of the San Antonio community who saw it as a threat to American culture. They saw the German immigrants as outsiders who were not fully assimilated into American society. This opposition was particularly strong during World War I when anti-German sentiment was high. Nevertheless, the festival continued to thrive, and its legacy can still be seen in the German-American organizations that exist in San Antonio today.
Painting of "Germania", the first New Braunfels singing society, by Carl Iwonski. Image courtesy of the Sophienburg Museum in New Braunfels (in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107).
More about August Siemering
August Siemering was a well-educated and revolutionary-minded German immigrant who worked a writer, editor, and political leader. He was elected secretary of the anti-slavery political organization "Der Freie Verein", and also wrote for the San Antonio Zeitung, an anti-slavery German-language newspaper. He was elected as one of the three secretaries for the anti-slavery meeting at the Sängerfest in 1854. Although he was a staunch abolitionist, he was forced into the service of the Confederate Army in 1861 where he served during the Civil War. After the war, Siemering returned to San Antonio, where he established a Republican newspaper and held various public offices. Siemering rose to prominence in the Republican Party and ran for lieutenant governor in the 1880 general election but was defeated by Democrat J.D. Sayers. August Siemering died on September 19, 1883. He was respected and esteemed by all who knew him.