Mendez v. Westminster, 1946
In 1946 the Mendez family in Orange County, California tried to enroll their kids in the local school, but they were told they would have to send them to a segregated “Mexican School.” The Mendez family refused to accept this and began to organize other Mexican-American families in the community to fight for equal access to education. The school district tried to appease the Mendez family by allowing them to send their own children to the White school, but not the other Mexican-American families. The family again refused and insisted that they were fighting on behalf of the whole community. They filed a class action lawsuit against their district and three others.
Sylvia Mendez was 8-years-old at the time. She took the stand and testified to why she should have a right to attend the same school as any other kid. The court ruled that segregated “Mexican Schools” were unconstitutional, leading to the desegregation of all of California’s schools and paving the way for the later Brown v. Board case.
In 1954, as we all know, the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools are unconstitutional. Ten years later, in spite of a decade of organizing by Black and Puerto Rican parents and other activists, New York City’s schools were still segregated. They joined with several of other civil rights organizations to form the Citywide Committee for Integrated Schools. They planned to shut down the schools with a boycott, because they were sick of the city ignoring their demand for integration. They tapped Bayard Rustin, who had organized the 1963 March on Washington, to help them organize the boycott.
They declared February 3, 1964 “Freedom Day.” Over 400,000 students stayed out of class to demand integration. Over 100,000 students attended Freedom Schools during the boycott. Twice as many people participated in Freedom Day than the March on Washington. Rustin called it the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S. history. Join us in the journey of addressing this unfinished business. #StillNotEqual