Feel like the minority even when you're the majority
The Texas Story Project.
Henry B. González came from a modest background.
Born to Leonides González Cigarroa and Genevieve Barbosa Prince de González immigrants from Mexico who had fled to the United States during the Mexican Revolution. Securing their new life in the United States was not easy. They decided to settle in San Antonio. González had five siblings and learned to speak English while working part-time at an elementary school to help support his family. González attended Jefferson High School in 1935 and earned an associates degree in 1937 from San Antonio College. He also attended the University of Texas in Austin and studied engineering and law. His education was put on hold during the Great Depression as there was not enough work to support his education. In 1943 he graduated with a bachelor of law degree from the School of Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. During the war, he served in the Navy and Army intelligence. From 1943 to 1946 he was the assistant chief probation officer for the juvenile court in Bexar County. He resigned from this position when a local judge prevented him from hiring an African American for his staff. Little did we know that this would set a pattern for González in his later years. He also worked for the San Antonio Housing Authority managing a housing project on the west side.
During his time as Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, González was instrumental in using his position to improve procedures for arrest and detention. All of this was a major part in the social movement against segregation. Working with the League of United Latin American Citizens and the G.I. Forum he brought people together to help end discrimination in all areas of society. He was well recognized in San Antonio and that helped give him recognition to create the Pan American Progressive Association in 1947. He felt that creating this organization would allow businessmen to contribute to the people stating that "we in the Hispanic community needed to quit complaining about how bad things were and instead do something to help ourselves."
In 1960 he campaigned for Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy as the national co-chair for the "Viva Kennedy" organization. He was in the 5th car behind the president in the motorcade on November 22, 1963. Being a close friend to the entire Kennedy family, he was a witness to the first lady giving a final kiss to her husband. It was said that he was not the same after Kennedy's death.
In 1961 he was the first Mexican American elected to the U.S. House from San Antonio. His dream was to be the first Mexican American politician to represent the whole community and he successfully fulfilled that dream. In 1957 he conducted a remarkable filibuster in the Texas Senate against desegregation. "I appeal to the future for my vindication" he stated. When elected to Congress there was a sign outside his door that merely stated "This Office Belongs to the People of Bexar County". He believed this with all his heart and fought to represent them well. But he also worked for the well being of all Americans, not just those from District 20 in San Antonio. He rose through the ranks to become Chair of the Banking Committee—one of the most powerful positions in Congress.
Henry B. was a supporter of social equality and stood firm in this belief. He was a longtime civil rights crusader that believed all people were created people. Individuals who opposed him ended up almost voting for him because of his strong ethics and personality. While serving five years in the Texas Senate he defeated 8 of the 10 school segregation bills. He left a robust impression of having opened the minds of thousands of Texans who believed in segregation. He supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was a key supporter of the campaign to end the Bracero Program which used foreign laborers to produce crops. He was instrumental in exposing the appalling conditions and the abuse that the laborers went through. He served in Congress longer than any other Hispanic.
He was especially proud of his heritage, customs, and language. He never lost his love for his Mexican heritage, but he was also very proud to be an American, saying, "I am an American without prefix, suffix, apology, or any other kind of modification." González stated, "I have always been in the minority, even when I was in the majority." He never forgot where he came from nor how he got where he ended up. This is what made this strong Hispanic man from San Antonio, TX an unforgettable American leader.
Posted March 22, 2018