When people think of the Civil Rights Movement images of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington or Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott come to mind. The problem? That’s an incomplete portrait of what was happening across the country. Latinos were also struggling for the same rights and opportunities for better education, work, and basic living conditions. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King we are taking the opportunity to shine a light on the Latino moments that helped shape the fight for Dr. King’s dream.
Mendez vs. Westminster
Before Brown vs. The Board of Education determined that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional there was Sylvia Mendez and her family. When Sylvia and her two brothers, a Puerto Rican and Mexican American family from Westminster, California, tried to enroll at the “white” school near their home they were denied because they were Latino. They were redirected to the “Mexican school” that was further away from their home and in poor condition. In 1945, the Mendez parents, along with several other Latino families, sued the school district and won. This landmark case set the precedent for desegregation of schools throughout the US.