Last night A Class Apart was shown on all the PBS channels. I am sorry I didn’t realize it was on earlier so I could have posted an announcement. You can now view information about the film online. It isn’t the entire program but gives a good overview.
A Class Apart tells of the Mexican-American Civil Rights movement in Texas in a post WWII world. There was urgency in the film because of the age of those who had been leaders in this movement. The case, Hernandez v. Texas happened in the 1950s so everyone involved was rising up in years. It challenged Jim Crow-style discrimination in southwestern America.
This little known Supreme Court case ended segregation of Mexican-Americans in schools and wiped out many social practices in the southwest that kept Mexican-Americans as second class citizens.
It is rather amazing that this much information has been left out of the general history books. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Hernandez v. Texas stemmed from the case of Pete Hernandez, a farmworker accused of killing a man in a bar fight in the Jackson County town of Edna in 1951. His case drew the attention of a group of San Antonio and Houston attorneys, who saw the case as a vehicle to break down the Jim Crow-style laws and customs that oppressed Mexican-Americans in the same fashion as African-Americans.
The attorneys argued that Hernandez could not receive a fair trial because Jackson County had systematically eliminated Mexican-Americans from juries. The state countered that Mexican-Americans were lumped in with Anglos under the law and thus were not entitled to special treatment under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The case, the first to be argued by Mexican-American lawyers before the Supreme Court, was heard during the same term as the Brown v. Board of Education case seeking to outlaw segregation in public schools. In a decision that was overshadowed nationwide by the Brown decision a week later, the court ruled that Mexican-Americans were a distinct group entitled to the same constitutional protection as other minority groups.