Someone has to go out and talk about this story. This is history. It cannot be forgotten.
– Felicitas Mendez, mother of Sylvia Mendez
It was 20 years ago that civil rights pioneer, Sylvia Mendez, promised her mother that she would tell their story.
Speaking with students at Westminster High School, Mendez spoke about her family’s historic 1947 Mendez v. Westminster court case.
“What they did is not very known but is a very important part of equality in America,” said Chad Gorsage, social science teacher.
Mendez, who was nine at the time, played a key figure in the case that required California to desegregate its public schools. The landmark case centered around five Mexican-American families who challenged the public schools in Orange County from barring Mexican-American children from attending its schools with whites.
Securing victory on the state level requiring schools to integrate, the case was, however, appealed by the school districts. The federal court upheld the lower court’s decision and declared the practice of school segregation unjust. The decision in the Mendez v. Westminster case was the precursor of and set a precedent for the Brown v. Board of Education case, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended school segregation in the United States.
“When we talk about history, a lot of times we do not get the real information,” said Principal Joe Fraser. “The more we can give opportunities to have historical figures on our campus, the better it is for our students,” added Fraser.
At the end of the speech by Mendez, students were given the opportunity to ask questions and take photos with the living icon.