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Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez to speak at Texas State

By Ann Friou
University News Service
October 23, 2012

Sylvia Mendez

Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez will speak on “Critical Issues of Equity in Education” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at Texas State University. Her talk will be held in the Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library 7th floor.

Mendez is the oldest daughter of Gonzalo Mendez, a Mexican immigrant, and Felicitas Mendez, a Puerto Rican, who challenged segregation so that she and other Latino children could be provided the same quality education provided to white students.

In 1943 in Westminster, Calif., students of Mexican descent were required to enroll in segregated and inferior schools known as "Mexican Schools." Mendez’s parents led a lawsuit against four Orange County school districts with four other Latino families in the landmark civil rights case, Mendez v. Westminster School District. Mendez won in the Federal court in 1946, then again in appeal 1947, and helped make California the first state in the nation to end school segregation. Seven years later, Mendez served as significant precedent for the NAACP in its U.S. Supreme Court school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

Mendez and her family have received numerous awards and recognitions, including a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 60th anniversary of the appellate victory; two public schools are named after Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez; a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Parent Teacher Association; the U.S. Congress Civil Rights Champion Award; two books written about the life of Sylvia Mendez and another about the lawsuit; and two documentaries: the Emmy-winning film "Mendez v. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos Los Niños" by Sandra Robbie and "Mendez v. Westminster: Families for Equality" by Erica Bennett.

On Feb. 15, 2011, President Barack Obama presented Mendez with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. On May 30, 2012, Mendez received an honorary degree from the City University of New York in Brooklyn.

Today, Mendez continues the legacy left by her parents by fighting for quality education and by encouraging students to stay in school.

Mendez’s talk is sponsored by the Departments of Modern Languages, Curriculum and Instruction, and Counseling, Leadership, Adult Education and School Psychology, and by the Center for the Study of the Southwest.

For more information, call (512) 245-2157.