California city builds monument to family behind desegregation case


Sylvia Mendez has dedicated much of her life to ensuring that the legacy of her parents’ historic school desegregation crusade on her behalf is commemorated. But, at 86, she is ready to pass the torch, she told Axios.

Why is this important: Mendez was at the center of Mendez v. Westminster of 1947 which ended segregation in law schools in California and helped set up the landmark desegregation decision Brown v. Board of Education of the United States Supreme Court.

The big picture: For 20 years, she has campaigned to publicize the case. Today the City of Westminster is building a Mendez Liberty Historic Trail and Monument tell the story of his family.

  • Mendez was honored last month at the Raizado Festival Icons Awards Ceremony and Dinner at the Aspen Meadows Resort, but told Axios she was ready for her younger sister, Sandra Mendez. Duran, resume the campaign.
  • The younger sister was born after the case was decided and said she never heard from her parents about it. “They didn’t brag. They were humble people. »

Background: In 1945, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez sued a Westminster school district that refused to enroll their children because of their dark skin color.

  • The case brought together black and Latino intellectuals and lawyers. Education scholar George I. Sanchez and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, soon started to match on future school desegregation strategies

The result: The case went to federal court in Los Angeles and the plaintiffs won. On April 14, 1947, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the decision. Two months later, soCalifornia Governor Earl Warren has banned school segregation in the state.

Yes, but: The Mendez case was forgotten for decades outside of historical, legal, and academic circles, as it was overshadowed by the better-known Brown v. Board of Ed case.

  • “I saw my family’s name in a book once and told this Chicano teacher it was us. He didn’t even seem to care,” said Sandra Mendez Duran, the younger sister , in Axios.

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