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“All We Are Seeking Here Is Equal Opportunity”: The American G.I. Forum Desegregates a Texas Community’s Schools

With the annexation of Texas in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War, Tejanos—Texans of Mexican descent—lost property rights and political power in a society dominated by Anglos. Through discriminatory practices and violent force, Tejanos were kept at the bottom of the new political and socio-cultural order. From 1900–1930, as an influx of immigrants from Mexico came north to meet a growing demand for cheap labor in the developing commercial agriculture industries, Tejanos experienced continued discrimination in employment, housing, public facilities, the judicial system, and educational institutions. Many school districts segregated Tejano and Anglo children into separate facilities with the Mexican schools grossly underfunded and often offering only a grade school education. In 1930, when 90% of the schools in South Texas were segregated, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Tejano advocacy group organized the previous year, supported the first major court challenge in Texas to end school segregation. The Texas Court of Appeals, however, ruled that school districts could use such criteria as language and irregular attendance due to seasonal work to separate children in school. The struggle of Mexican Americans to end discriminatory practices accelerated following World War II. In 1948, LULAC and the newly formed American G.I. Forum, an advocacy group of Mexican American veterans, assisted in a lawsuit. The federal district court ruling in that case prohibited school segregation based on Mexican ancestry. Localities devised ways to evade the ruling, however, and de facto segregation continued. Student protests in the late 1960s achieved an end to some discriminatory practices. In subsequent years a new civil rights organization, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), continued the fight in the courts, eventually concentrating on the introduction of bilingual and bicultural programs into schools. In the following interview, Ed Idar, associated with both the Forum and MALDEF, related a successful grassroots effort in the early 1950s to desegregate a school without a court ruling.

Listen to Audio:

IDAR: He called me one day, within a week or ten days, and said, hey, there is a little town there, south of Austin, Kyle, that has a segregated school. I want to see what we can do about that. So I went to Kyle and sure enough, as you’re coming to San Antonio from Austin, as you’re coming to Kyle there used to be a frame building on the left side of the highway. It was two or three rooms. And that was the Mexican school.

They had the first three grades there. And then they had another campus over here in the main part of the city, good buildings, brick buildings and everything. Where they had the first three grades for the Anglos and the rest of the elementary and high school. So, when I talked to local people, we organized a G.I. Forum in Kyle, we had two, three meetings. In fact, the way that came about we had an Anglo who had setup a vocational school for vagrants to take advantage of the G.I. Bill by going to his vocational school. He’s the one that got a G.I. Forum started actually, not I, in Kyle. We had two, three meetings, and then the local establishment got a little concerned. We had proposed to them that we would be happy to raise the money with which to move that frame building from where it was over to the other campus, providing that once that was done, the classes in the first three grades would be integrated. And we agreed to have a meeting of the community—and see we had been working with a small group; we decided, alright let’s call the whole community and see if they’ll go for this.

So we called the meeting of the whole community—two, three hundred people. To lay the proposition before them. And the sheriff and two, three deputies were there—there was a little tension for a while. And this guy who was our friend, allegedly, this professor at the school turned on us. He started making accusations of outside agitators coming into Kyle, agitating the people. He came pretty close to using the word Communist, and accused us of that. And when my turn came I told the crowd, with the sheriff being there, I told them: I’m aware of the McCarran-[Wood] Act. The Congress had just enacted an act a year or two earlier providing for anybody that was a Communist had to register with the Department of Justice. So I told them: I want everybody here to know that I am aware of this act and I don’t intend to register under it, and neither does anybody in my organization. Because we are not Communists. All we are seeking here is equal opportunity and so forth.

The people voted to go ahead and move that building and pay the expense, raise the money to pay for it. The school board never did like the idea but within a few months they put out a bond issue and they raised enough money to enlarge the downtown campus. They built a nice building there and they did away with the frame building, and they integrated the school. And we didn’t have to go to court for that one. It was just public pressure organizing the people to get them to do something—that’s what happened.

Source: Oral History courtesy of U.S. Latinos & Latinas and World War II Oral History Project, University of Texas, Austin. Interview with Ed Idar, organizer/volunteer for the American G.I. Forum and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, December 2, 2000, in San Antonio, Texas, by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez.