Brochure for Terrell Wells Swimming Pool

San Antonio public pool subject of Mexican American civil rights case

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In the early 20th century, Mexican Americans were officially considered "white" and legally not subject to Jim Crow laws. Discrimination and segregation were common occurrences, but they were difficult to fight through the courts because there were no actual laws being violated. To organize resistance, George I. Sanchez founded the Texas Civil Rights Fund to advance Mexican American civil rights, helping to bring the 1943 law case, Terrell Wells Swimming Pool vs Jacob Rodriguez, before the courts.

When the Texas Legislature passed the "Caucasian Race-Equal Privileges" Resolution (HCR 105) in May 1943, Sanchez saw an opportunity to use the courts to challenge discrimination. According to the resolution, all white Texans should be allowed to fully access all public places of business or amusement. Anyone denying access "shall be considered as violating the good neighbor policy of our State." In June 1943, Governor Coke Stevenson reiterated the resolution in a public proclamation directing all citizens to abide by the Good Neighbor Policy in both spirit and letter.

To test the resolution’s weight, Sanchez, working with attorney M.C. Gonzales, encouraged Jacob I. Rodriguez, M. J. Gonzalez, and Albert Trevino — three Mexican American citizens in San Antonio — to seek admission to the Terrell Wells swimming pool. The privately owned pool advertised itself to the general public as white only, claiming to be "San Antonio’s only restricted swimming pool." On July 10, 1943, the three Mexican American men paid their admission to the pool but were then denied entry. Giving testimony in court, Albert Trevino stated that they were told explicitly that they could not swim there because they were of Mexican descent.

I can't sell you these tickets because I have instructions from the owner of this swimming pool not to allow anyone of Mexican or Spanish descent to come into this pool.' I asked her if that is what they meant when they said this was a restricted swimming pool, and she said 'yes'. Testimony of Albert Trevino

M.C. Gonzales filed a case against the Terrell Wells Swimming Pool on the grounds that by excluding the men from the pool they violated HCR 105 and the governor’s "Good Neighbor Policy." After a non-jury trial, the judge agreed and issued an order requiring the pool to admit Mexican Americans.

It is further Ordered ... that Terrell Wells Swimming Pool ... are hereby enjoined from denying and refusing to offer and extend the equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privideges of the Terrell Wells Swimming Pool to Jacob I. Rodriguez and to all other persons similarly circumstanced who are members of the Caucasian Race.Judge Robert W. B. Terrell

The owner of the swimming pool objected and appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals who ultimately reversed the ruling, allowing the swimming pool to continue to restrict access. The Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

While ultimately a legal loss for Mexican American civil rights, the Terrell Wells case proved that mere resolutions and proclamations were not enough to effectively impact civil rights. Laws were needed to end discrimination.     


Background source: Cynthia A. Morales, "Good Neighbors, but not all: Rodriguez v. Terrell Wells Swimming Pool," presented at the 2017 Texas State Historical Association Annual Meeting. Ms. Morales is a graduate student in political science at Texas State University.

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