Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD

By: V. Carl Allsup

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: October 8, 2020

The Mexican-American struggle for access to the Texas public school system pursued a different strategy than that used by African Americans. As legal doctrine evolved after the Civil War, racial categories included only two groups, Caucasian and Negro. Segregation of Blacks occurred by overt, legal definition—it was the law of the land—whereas segregation of persons of Mexican origin was done by covert shifts within the law, as they were classified as White. In Texas, school officials separated Mexican-origin children by "pedagogical analysis" or language deficiency. This practice was developed in 1930 to reinstate the system temporarily suspended by Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra, a suit against separation by national origin. In the post-World War II era, Mexican-American organizations and strategists re-established the "other White" concept; they also stressed the absence-of-law tactic, whereby segregation was unconstitutional where no law existed permitting such action. Several successful suits between 1948 and 1957 established Mexican Americans as "a class apart"; in succeeding years only one court finding failed to support that designation, but others did not always find discrimination. State officials began using the "other White" and absence-of-law arguments to justify grouping Black and Hispanic children to fulfill integration laws and to deny the existence of discrimination.

Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970) was the first case to extend the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision (1954) to Mexican Americans. It recognized them as a minority group that could be and was frequently discriminated against. Such segregation and discrimination was ruled unconstitutional. The decision replaced the "other White" argument based on Hernández v. State of Texas, which had provided constitutional rights based on class discrimination where Mexican Americans had not been identified as a separate race. In 1968 José Cisneros and twenty-five other Mexican-American parents filed suit against the Corpus Christi Independent School District, charging operation of a dual school system at all levels on a de facto basis. The attorney for Cisneros was James de Anda, an experienced Mexican-American civil-rights lawyer who participated in the 1954 Hernández case before the Supreme Court and won the Hernández v. Driscoll ISD case in 1957. De Anda had begun that experience as an attorney for the American G.I. Forum. He argued that Mexican Americans were an identifiable minority group that had been illegally segregated by state action, whereas the school district maintained that since there was no history of state law requiring segregation, a dual school system could not exist. Judge Woodrow Seals found that the school board consciously fostered a system that perpetuated traditional segregation. This included a system that bused Anglo students to schools out of their neighborhoods, renovated old schools in Black and Mexican-American neighborhoods rather than building new ones, assigned Black and Hispanic teachers to segregated schools, and limited hiring of such teachers at other schools; the school board also lacked a majority-to-minority busing system. Judge Seals cited the "other White" argument as adjacent proof of segregation, but relied primarily on the application of unconstitutional segregation of Mexican Americans as an identifiable minority group based on physical, cultural, religious, and linguistic distinctions. The United States Department of Justice required further proof of historical evidence of segregation, and the school procrastinated on implementation of a plan to satisfy constitutional requirements. However, in 1975 the Cisneros case produced a new school system for Mexican-American and Black children in Corpus Christi.

Carlos M. Alcala and Jorge C. Rangel, "Project Report: De Jure Segregation of Chicanos in Texas Schools," Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 7 (March 1972). Carl Allsup, The American G.I. Forum: Origins and Evolution (University of Texas Center for Mexican American Studies Monograph 6, Austin, 1982). Carl Allsup, "Education Is Our Freedom: The American G.I. Forum and Mexican American School Segregation in Texas, 1948–1957," Aztlán 8 (Spring-Summer-Fall 1977). Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., "Mexican American Organizations and the Changing Politics of School Desegregation in Texas, 1945–1980," Social Science Quarterly 63 (December 1982). Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., "The Struggle Against Separate and Unequal Schools: Middle Class Mexican Americans and the Desegregation Campaign in Texas, 1929–1957," History of Education Quarterly 23 (Fall 1983).

  • Education
  • Court Cases
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Court Cases and Controversies
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform

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

V. Carl Allsup, “Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
October 8, 2020

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