Texas’ Gift to the U.S. from Father & Son Champions of Civil Rights: Charlie A. & Henry B. González  

The Texas Story Project.

In 1957, a year after having been the first popularly-elected Mexican American Texas Senator, Henry B. González was driving to Austin in his old station wagon, a route he’d taken every day to work.

However, this day would prove to be extraordinary as his son Charlie A. Gonzalez tagged along to spend quality time and to become active in his father's political life, something he grew a great interest in from a young age. Once they arrived, Henry B. lost no time preparing to seize the opportunity to shift public policy and advocate for minority rights. That day, Henry B. took the Senate floor booming forth a wealth of knowledge. He spoke against various Jim Crow laws by reading from numerous books and drawing upon the history of Texas for a total of twenty-two hours straight without sitting or taking a break. This record still stands as the longest filibuster in Texas Senate history and Henry B. won. He managed to delay and frustrate the proposed segregation bills, inevitably defeating most of them. It was Henry B.’s birthday and his gift to Texas and the US.

Charlie described this moment as the greatest experience in his own life, something so glorious that his father had accomplished against all odds. During this extraordinary decade, Texas had a completely different agenda compared to today’s and therefore this contribution, along with others, made early strides towards the end of segregation.

Although Henry’s accomplishments were abundantly influential to many, it also greatly encouraged his son, Charlie, who was his biggest fan. As Charlie witnessed his father become a rising symbol for the opportunities of Mexican Americans, he realized that nothing served as more of an example of what he wanted to do going forward. Charlie explains that above everything, his father taught him public service, sacrifice, and commitment because there is certainly no greater good. With this wisdom, Charlie was motivated by one overarching question, “where is the sense of justice and fairness?” While he prospered throughout his different endeavors, Charlie truly embodied these teachings and without a doubt, remained committed to this quest that disadvantaged people had been struggling to achieve for centuries.

Charlie went on to earn a law degree from St. Mary’s School of Law in 1972 while simultaneously serving as a reservist in the Texas Air National Guard. After a decade of private practice as a lawyer, he was elected as Judge of County Court No.2 in 1982, where he constructed a separate civil docket system and organized a more efficient domestic violence docket. In 1988, he became Judge of the 57th State Judicial District Court in which he established a district-wide alternative dispute resolution system to settle disputes outside of court. When Henry announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Charlie began campaigning for his seat and won with little competition in 1998. This was a grand stride for him in which he utilized his political power to promote the protection of individual's civil rights, starting first in the great state of Texas. Some of the many opportunities he undertook was chairing the Civil Rights task force under the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Charlie was the one who led the investigation of what became known as the “civil rights issue of the decade” or the 2000 census that underestimated the size of the minority population. After serving his seventh term in the House, Charlie announced that he would no longer pursue reelection and he retired from political office in 2013.

After decades of experience as a lawyer, judge, and congress member, Charlie has thus been able to answer his guiding principle: “People must stand up literally and figuratively to the evils of segregation, discrimination and inequality. We know that we must continue improving with the same type of work and with vigilance as we recognize that those civil rights still need to be protected, asserted, and advanced.”

Both Charlie A. González and his father, Henry B. González, paved the beginnings to an equal society in Texas and left us with the civic duty to continue moving forward and to not stand still or take steps back.

Destiny Cervantes is a freshman at St. Mary’s University where she is majoring in Political Science. As a former member of the National Speech and Debate Association and a recent member of the Model Organization of American States, she is long dedicated to the practice of debate. She is destined to law school in which she aspires to specialize in Immigration Law.

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