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INDEPENDENT LENS: The Longoria Affair

Airs Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Historical photo of Felix Longoria. Private Felix Longoria fought and died while fighting the Japanese during World War II.

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. Longoria’s widow was told, simply, “The whites wouldn’t like it.”

Hector Garcia in front of his medical in Corpus Christi, Texas early 1950s.
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Above: Hector Garcia in front of his medical in Corpus Christi, Texas early 1950s.

Lyndon Johnson standing beside Hector Garcia in the early 1960s.
Enlarge this image

Above: Lyndon Johnson standing beside Hector Garcia in the early 1960s.

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. The incident fueled the rise of a national civil rights movement led by Mexican American veterans, and bitterly divided Three Rivers for generations to come.

Two stubborn and savvy leaders, newly elected Senator Lyndon Johnson and activist Dr. Hector Garcia, formed an 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.

Today the town of Three Rivers still struggles with its past. Local musician and activist Santiago Hernandez wants to honor Felix Longoria by naming the post office after him. But many Anglo residents are angered by the idea. They believe discrimination against Mexican Americans never existed in their town and the Longoria Affair was blown up for political gain. Past and present collide as Mexican Americans and Anglo Americans engage in a bitter struggle over the meaning of civil rights and the history of segregation.

"The Longoria Affair" is on Facebook.

Video

Trailer: Independent Lens: The Longoria Affair

Above: "The Longoria Affair" tells the story of one key injustice - the refusal, by a small-town funeral home in Texas after World War II, to care for a dead Mexican American soldier's body "because the whites wouldn't like it" - and shows how the incident sparked outrage nationwide. Two stubborn and savvy leaders, newly-elected Senator Lyndon Johnson and veteran/activist Dr. Hector Garcia, formed an alliance over the incident. Over the next 15 years, their complex, sometimes contentious relationship would help Latinos become a national political force for the first time in American history, carry John Kennedy to the White House, and ultimately lead to Johnson's signature on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Video

Video Excerpt: Independent Lens: The Longoria Affair

Above: "The Longoria Affair" explores the life of Private Felix Longoria, who died fighting the Japanese during World War II. But when his body was sent home to Three Rivers, Texas, the town’s only funeral parlor refused to allow his family to use their chapel because "the whites wouldn’t like it." The incident created deep divisions in Three Rivers, tensions that last even today — but it also helped launch the Mexican American civil rights movement, elect John Kennedy to the White House, and lead Lyndon Johnson to sign the most important civil rights legislation of the 20th century. Learn more about the film ". http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/longoria-affair/