Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Sixty years ago in Three Rivers, Texas the only funeral home in town refused to hold a wake for Felix Longoria, a decorated Mexican American soldier killed in battle during World War II.
The owner told Longoria’s widow he couldn’t be waked in the funeral home because “The whites wouldn’t like it”.
Those words became front page news across the country, sparking outrage and setting off a series of events that would come to be known as The Longoria Affair. They launched a national civil rights movement, led by Mexican American veterans -- and bitterly divided Three Rivers for generations to come.
Behind closed doors, two stubborn and savvy leaders, newly-elected Senator Lyndon Johnson and veteran/activist Dr. Hector Garcia, formed an enduring alliance over the incident.
Over the next 15 years, their complex, sometimes contentious relationship would help Latinos become a national force for the first time in American history, carry John F. Kennedy to the White House, and ultimately lead to Johnson’s signature on the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th century.