INDEPENDENT LENS: The Longoria Affair
Airs Sunday, November 14, 2010 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV
Friday, November 12, 2010
Credit: Hector P. Garcia Archives at Texas A&M University
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.”
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.
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