Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas

Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas

Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas

Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas

Synopsis

Between 1940 and 1975, African Americans and Mexican Americans in Texas fought a number of battles in court, at the ballot box, in schools, and on the streets to eliminate segregation and state-imposed racism. Although both groups engaged in civil rights struggles as victims of similar forms of racism and discrimination, they were rarely unified. In Fighting Their Own Battles, Brian Behnken explores the cultural dissimilarities, geographical distance, class tensions, and organizational differences that all worked to separate blacks and Mexican Americans.
Behnken further demonstrates that prejudices on both sides undermined the potential for a united civil rights campaign. Coalition building and cooperative civil rights efforts foundered on the rocks of perceived difference, competition, distrust, and, oftentimes, outright racism. Behnken's in-depth study reveals the major issues of contention for the two groups, their different strategies to win rights, and significant thematic developments within the two civil rights struggles. By comparing the histories of these movements in one of the few states in the nation to witness two civil rights movements, Behnken bridges the fields of African American and Mexican American history, revealing the myriad causes that ultimately led these groups to "fight their own battles."

Excerpt

In 1957 Texas legislators drafted a plethora of segregationist legislation designed to circumvent the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing school segregation. Mexican American and African American civil rights activists quickly organized to prevent these bills from passing. But when a few Mexican Americans associated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) suggested working with blacks in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), LULAC national president Felix Tijerina sternly reprimanded his colleagues, saying: “Let the Negro fight his own battles. His problems are not mine. I don’t want to ally with him.” Over the next two decades, such sentiments intensified as the school desegregation battles continued. In 1970, for instance, the school district in Houston implemented a desegregation plan that combined only black and Mexican American schools. Angered by this decision, Mexican Americans boycotted classes and formed huelga or strike schools. Some also appealed to black activist and NAACP official Reverend D. Leon Everett, the lone African American on the school board, for assistance. But at a school board meeting, an unnamed Mexican American youth yelled to Everett: “We don’t want to

A note on terminology and translations. Throughout this book “black” and “African American” are used interchangeably to represent this community. In some places, “Negro” denotes specific references where the word is commonly used (e.g., the Negro press). For the Mexican-origin community, I use the terms “Mexican American,” “Mexican-descent,” “Mexican-origin,” and, where chronologically and politically acceptable, “Chicano/a,” “Latin o/a,” and “Hispanic.” Persons of European ancestry are referred to as “white,” “Anglo,” and “Anglo American.” For names and phrases in Spanish, I follow the usage of diacritical markings, especially the accent mark, as preferred by the historical actors using such markings. In conformance with convention, diacritical marks have been omitted in the names of legal cases. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

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