Aldrete, Cristóbal (1924–1991)

By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: July 29, 2020

Cristóbal (Cris) Aldrete, civil rights lawyer, was born in Del Rio, Texas, on January 16, 1924, the son of Felipe and Dolores (Pool) Aldrete. He was reared in Del Rio and worked throughout his adolescence in the family's grocery store, picking cotton, or with the local English and Spanish language dailies. He was the seventh of eleven children but the first in his family to graduate from high school. He joined the United States Army and studied Japanese at the University of Denver but later transferred to the University of Texas to complete a degree in government. In 1951 he received a law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston. He married Oralia Vera of Brownsville in August of 1954; they had five children.

After completing law school, Aldrete returned to Del Rio to practice law. He was a member of the city council from 1952 to 1958 and was elected city attorney in 1959. Between 1961 and 1965 he was Val Verde county attorney. He resigned during his second term to accept employment with the federal government. His pursuit of civil rights in the courts began when his father became a plaintiff in Del Rio Independent School District v. Salvatierra (1930), in which the court opposed the segregation of Mexican Americans on grounds of national origin but allowed segregation on an educational basis in elementary schools. In 1946 Aldrete founded the Alba Club at the University of Texas to provide Hispanic students the opportunity to focus attention on social problems faced by their people. In 1947, as a student, he participated in the American Veterans Committee at the University of Texas and protested the segregation of Mexican Americans in Texas schools. In 1949 he lodged a complaint with the state department of education against the segregated Del Rio school system on behalf of Alba. Within a few weeks of his charge, T. M. Trimble, the assistant state superintendent of public instruction, made an inspection tour of the Del Rio schools and reported that Aldrete's complaint was warranted. Consequently, the state withdrew its accreditation of the Del Rio Schools on February 12, 1949, a decision that the new commissioner of education overruled once he was installed. Ultimately the state required that public schools in Texas end segregation on the basis of national origin by September of 1949. The Delgado decree in the case of Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District, however, permitted separate classes for first graders on pedagogical grounds if all students were subjected to "scientific and standardized tests." After his return to Del Rio to practice law, Aldrete, a member of the American G.I. Forum, became involved in a campaign to make the organization national in scope. In August 1952 he and Hector P. García, the founder of the forum, traveled throughout the Southwest promoting the organization. In Hernández v. State of Texas, the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Pete Hernández, a farm worker who had been found guilty of the murder of Joe Espinosa in Edna, because the jury that convicted him had no Mexican panelists. In fact, no Texas Mexican had served on a jury in the county for the preceding twenty-five years. Aldrete was one of five attorneys representing Hernández on behalf of the American G.I. Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens when the case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 11, 1954. In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren found in favor of Hernández and ordered the state to reverse his conviction.

Aldrete was elected state chairman of the forum in 1953. In 1965 he became a regional administrator for the Community Action Programs of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Two years later he was named special assistant to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee to assist in the effort among Hispanic voters to reelect Lyndon Johnson. He was an assistant to Representative Abraham Kazen, Jr. (D-Texas), in 1969; he worked for Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. (D-Texas), as a legislative and executive assistant in the 1970s. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter appointed Aldrete to serve as cochairman of the Southwest Border Regional Commission to organize a $10 million economic development plan for the region.

Aldrete spent his later years in Austin. He served as executive director of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus from 1987 to 1989. On occasion he participated in public forums, such as the 1990 Martín De León Symposium on the Chicano movement in Texas from 1940 to 1960. Aldrete died on September 17, 1991, of cancer, at Methodist Hospital of Houston. A memorial Mass was offered for him at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Westlake Hills, outside of Austin. He was buried in Del Rio after another service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in that city.

Austin American-Statesman, September 23, 1991. Veronica Salazar, Dedication Rewarded: Prominent Mexican Americans (2 vols., San Antonio: Mexican American Culture Center, 1976, 1981). Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., "Let All of Them Take Heed": Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987).

  • Education
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Lawyers, Civil Rights Activists, and Legislators
  • Politics and Government
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Aldrete, Cristóbal,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994
July 29, 2020

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