Segments in this Video

Introduction to Hernandez v. Texas (02:31)


In 1954 a case Hernandez v. Texas was brought before the Supreme Court. It was the first time the issue of Mexican American civil rights had ever reached the Supreme Court.

Life in the 1950s (01:15)

Life in the 1950s was very difficult for Hispanics. Discrimination was everywhere. The Texas Restaurant Association put out signs forbidding them from entry.

History of Discrimination (01:22)

Since the end of the Mexican War, the United States acquired huge swaths of Mexican territory and along with it, tens of thousands of residents who were offered citizenship as part of the treaty. Equal treatment was not part of the bargain.

Racial Categories (00:27)

Mexicans and Indians did not fit into America's racial categories: black or white. By the early twentieth century, they were considered white by law, owing to the treatise grant, but their status as citizens meant little.

Segregation (03:01)

Segregation was wide spread. Rigid social code kept Mexicans away from whites.

World War II (01:29)

In World War II, 300,000 Mexican-Americans served their country. They suffered casualties and earned honors disproportionate to their numbers. They returned home with raised expectations.

Private Felix Longoria: A War Hero Denied (01:53)

When the body of Private Felix Longoria returned home to Three Rivers, Texas, the local funeral parlor refused to hold a wake. Longoria, a war hero could only be buried in Mexican section of the cemetery.

Uphill Battle: Fighting for Equal Rights (01:55)

Mexican American lawyers brought suits against discriminatory practices, but the local majorities did not support injunctions.

The Murder of Pedro Hernandez (02:02)

Caetano Espinosa was a tenant farmer known to everyone in the small town of Edna, Texas simply as "Joe." On August 4, 1951, Pedro Hernandez shot and killed him.

Gus Garcia (03:03)

Gus Garcia took Hernandez's case. Gus was a prominent lawyer who had experienced discrimination himself.

Trial of Pete Hernandez (02:30)

Garcia states Hernandez's case is not constitutional as he is not being judged by a jury of his peers. John J. Herrera assisted with the Hernandez's case.

A Civil Rights Case (03:37)

Lawyers in the Hernandez case show pattern of discrimination in America toward Mexican Americans.

Fight for Identity (02:32)

The court argued that Mexican Americans were viewed as whites even though discrimination was rampant. Mexican Americans claimed they were neither black nor white, but were a class a part.

Appeal Denied (01:16)

Lawyers argue to Texas Supreme Court that Mexican-Americans did not fit into a legal structure which recognized only white and black racial categories. Their appeal was denied.

Case Goes to Supreme Court (02:52)

The expense and risk of traveling to the Supreme Court was immense. Activists appeal for funds. American G.I. Forum supports endeavor.

Gus Garcia's Problem (04:58)

Gus Garcia had a known problem with alcohol. Activist worried he would be unable to argue case effectively.

Supreme Court (03:45)

On January 11, 1954, García and Cadena faced the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Cadena opened the argument. “Can Mexican Americans speak English?” one justice asked.

Ruling Announced (02:47)

On May 3, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in the case of Hernandez v. Texas. Mexican Americans, as a group, were protected under the 14th Amendment, in keeping with the theory that they were indeed “a class apart.”

Effects of Hernandez v. Texas (03:06)

The success of Hernandez v. Texas provides powerful encouragement to the civil rights movement. Garcia decompensates. Cadena becomes Chief Justice of Texas Supreme Court.

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A Class Apart

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In the 1954 legal case Hernandez v. Texas, defense lawyers forged a daring strategy—one arguing that Mexican-Americans did not fit into a legal structure which recognized only white and black racial categories. This American Experience episode interweaves the story of that landmark case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the broader narrative of the civil rights movement. Viewers will learn about the heroic post-World War II struggle of Mexican-Americans fighting to dismantle Jim Crow-style discrimination targeted against them. Distributed by PBS Distribution. (60 minutes)

Length: 51 minutes

Item#: BVL40874

Copyright date: ©2009

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“A timely and informative documentary. Recommended.” —Video Librarian  

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