The Struggle for Civil Rights

In 1971, Jose Cisneros took to the forefront the fight of bringing the fight for civil rights to Mexican Americans. At the time in the United States, equal rights had only been an issue largely focued on by whites and blacks, basically leaving out any protections to Mexican Americans. This was brought all the way to the supreme court as a continuation of the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. At the time, Corpus Christi Independent School district (ISD) had only implemented de jure segregation, but with this case, they argued for the removal of the dual school system and create a unitary school system, where all students regardless of race learned under the same roof. Instead of the typical integration tool of busing, Corpus Christi Independent School district made strives to equalize funding to all schools, not just predominately white places of education. The judge originally overseeing the case found that the school system in Corpus Christi was not outright racist but promoted a segregated system. Schools like this had already been ruled unconstitutional, but it took the case, Cisneros vs. Corpus Christi Independent School District to bring to the forefront of Texans minds that the necessity of extending protection to minority groups other than African Americans was imperative. This was huge for Texas, primarily south Texas because of the high Hispanic population and prevalence of Mexican culture in the area. Cisneros Vs. Corpus Christi Independent School District is the most important case in Texan history because of its effect of ending long time conflict between white and Mexican Texans, and therefore along with the creation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Corpus Christi was the single most important city for Mexican American civil rights and the push for equality within Texas as a whole. It is, therefore imperative to understand not only the history of the fight for civil rights in Texas, but also the current problems facing minorities in order to use the knowledge from the past to continue to steer Texas in a direction towards a consistent growth and support of equality for people of all creeds, colors, and religions.

Texas has, since its settlement, had issues that be political, social and even violence between races. At the earliest time, it was not only an issue of race but also differences in nationality, religion, culture and wealth. The oldest forms of racial tensions found in Texas have always been between people of white heritage and Mexican heritage. Adding in slavery and the Anglo victory for Texas over Mexico, Texas had formed a distinct pyramid of racial and socioeconomic hierarchies. After Texas’s annexation into the United States as a Southern state, white dominance only continued and grew. It is impossible to understand the fight for Mexican American civil rights without including African Americans.

Whites began colonization in Mexican controlled Texas starting in 1821. Spain had originated allowing white Anglos to Texas 1820, very close to the time conflict arose leading to Mexico achieving its independence. The original laws did not permit foreigners in any part of the Texas territory, but Spain had difficultly convincing Spaniards to leave their home to settle rugged and dangerous areas of the new world.

At the start of 1790, Spain promoted Anglo-American settlement and migration in Upper Louisiana for the reason of continuous difficultly recruiting Spanish settlers. The immigrants were expected to adopt Catholicism, work hard for Spain and basically become citizens of Spain but in the new world. Spain anticipated that the Anglo settlers would bolster economic and geographic development and help deter attacks from native Indians like the Comanches and Cherokees. Mexico adopted Spanish colonization plans when Mexico won its independence by granting land contracts to adventurers who would agree to settle and supervise specific qualified immigrants that Mexico saw as fit.

White Anglo settlers were attracted to Mexican Texas due to the expansive amount of inexpensive land. By the 1820s, Anglo’s believed and hoped that the United States of America would purchase part of Texas from Mexico. These Anglos assumed a portion of Texas was included as part of the Louisiana Purchase and that the United States of America had traded it back to Spain in exchange for Florida during the creation of the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty, establishing the territorial boundary near the Sabine River. The Texas settlers assumed annexation was inevitable and would increase immigration and incentivize buyers for the land they had received for very cheap, hoping to turn a heavy profit. Another secondary incentive was that Mexico and the United States of America did not share any reciprocal agreements allowing creditors to come to Texas and legally collect debts or to return fugitives who owed dues. This made Mexican Texas a theoretical safe haven for the many of the American ranchers and farmers who bailed on the grants and loans when agricultural prices fell dramatically after the War of 1812 finished and creditors started to look for quick and immediate repayment. Facing a forced loss of their property and livelihood, possibly even debtors’ prison, settlers loaded their entire lives into wagons and headed for the border near the Sabine River, where a new start was possible and their debts could be left in the dust.

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