The Forty-eighth Texas Legislature issued the Caucasian Race Resolution, also known as the “Caucasian Race—Equal Privileges” resolution, or House Concurrent Resolution No. 105, in May 1943 for the ostensible purpose of prohibiting discrimination against Mexican-origin persons in Texas. The resolution was signed by Goverenor Coke Stevenson on May 6, 1943. The legislative measure, along with Governor Stevenson’s proclamation on June 25, 1943, of the Texas Good Neighbor Policy and establishment of the Good Neighbor Commission, purportedly “charged with investigating and addressing discrimination against Latin Americans in Texas,” was meant to convince Mexico that Texas embraced the United States wartime pledge of domestic understanding and solidarity.
Emerging in the context of World War II, the resolution represented a concession of good neighborliness after Mexico, the U.S.-favored wartime ally in the Americas, demanded that Texas demonstrate the same kind of understanding and cooperation at home that the U.S.’s Good Neighbor Policy was declaring in Latin America and Mexico. The unprecedented and remarkable challenge by Stevenson against discrimination, however, did not necessarily indicate that Texas intended to change the course of race relations. Governor Stevenson and the Texas legislature were actually seeking to persuade Mexico to terminate a travel ban that excluded Texas from an international treaty in which the United States contracted hundreds of thousands of Mexican Nationals to work in U.S. farms and railroads, mostly the former (see BRACERO PROGRAM). Capitalizing on the predictable demand for Mexican workers by Texas farmers, Mexico promoted the civil rights of Mexican-origin persons in the state, prompting Texas officials to appear conciliatory.
The text of House Concurrent Resolution No. 105 declared “all persons of the Caucasian Race” are “entitled to equal accommodations,” stating the obvious guarantee of equal treatment for whites. In the Jim Crow environment of Texas, Mexicans were officially recognized as whites, but they remained subject to widespread discrimination and segregation. By limiting the legislative focus to Mexicans, the Texas legislature excluded African Americans while conceding to Mexico, as well as to the demands by Mexican civil rights leaders in Texas who had been calling for federal and state civil rights laws. Although the Caucasian Race Resolution possessed limited practical implications, it established a legal precedent affirming a “white” designation for Mexicans and exemplifying the need to pass civil rights legislation.
Foreshadowed by earlier attempts, like House Bill No. 909, to placate discontent over the treatment of Mexicans in Texas, the Caucasian Race Resolution made careful distinctions so as to secure the economic interests of Texas without extending rights to “the Negro Race.” Activists were disappointed that a resolution did not carry the weight of law. On May 17, 1943, within days of the resolution’s adoption, civil rights attorney Alonso Perales wrote to Carlos Castañeda, “…we did not get the law we wanted and which our nation needs in order to unite the peoples of the Americas. Needless to say I feel very much discouraged.” Suspecting that the legislation was an insincere effort to grant equal rights to Mexicans, civil rights leaders associated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) decided to test the legal “weight” of the resolution at a San Antonio swimming pool known to refuse service to Mexicans.
In July 1943, three members of LULAC—Jacob Rodríguez, Alberto Treviño, and Manuel Gonzalez—sought entry into the Terrell Wells Swimming Pool. After being refused admission as Mexicans, the three LULAC members filed a suit under the title of Rodriguez v. Terrell Wells Swimming Pool before the Seventy-third District Court in San Antonio and accused Terrell Wells of violating the Caucasian Race Resolution. Although Rodríguez, Treviño, and Gonzalez were initially successful, the Court of Civil Appeals in Bexar County rendered a judgment in 1944 in favor of the owner of Terrell Wells by noting that the resolution did not “have the effect of a statute.” The 1944 court decision validated the claims by LULAC leaders and Mexican officials of discrimination, suggesting that the members of the Texas legislature and Governor Stevenson were insincere wartime neighbors abroad and at home. The tepid response by the Texas legislature also made the unresponsiveness of state government a diplomatic and civil rights issue and underscored the inchoate nature of classifying Mexicans as whites.