In 1946, eight years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Mexican Americans in Orange County, California won a class action lawsuit to dismantle the segregated school system that existed there.
Mendez v. Westminster was the first case to hold that school segregation itself is unconstitutional and violates the 14th Amendment. Prior to the Mendez decision, some courts, in cases mainly filed by the NAACP, held that segregated schools attended by African American children violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because they were inferior in resources and quality, not because they were segregated.
Despite the triumphs of Mendez v. Westminster, the case remains largely unknown and unacknowledged. The California State Board of Education does not include the case in its K-12 content standards.
Sandra Robbie won a 2003 Emmy for a KOCE-TV documentary "Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos Los Ninos." The 30-minute documentary is available at www.koce.org. "This isn't the be all and end all. It's the beginning of the conversation," says Robbie, who also has co-written a children's book called "Mendez vs. Westminster."
Sylvia Mendez also spreads the word. Mendez says that her parents were disappointed no one told them "gracias" for fighting the good fight. Now, Mendez, who speaks at schools throughout the region, says it's her mission to tell people.
"The horrific part of the story is it's not part of the history books, The California State Board of Education should be ashamed of themselves for not including it. It's remarkable and frustrating. But some people are trying to raise awareness."
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