Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra

By: Cynthia E. Orozco

Type: General Entry

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: October 21, 2020

The first case in which Texas courts reviewed the actions of local school districts regarding the education of children of Mexican descent was tried in Del Rio in 1930. Like many other communities in the state, Del Rio had for the first six decades of the twentieth century a tripartite segregation of students in its public school system. Article VII, Section 7, of the Constitution of 1876 provided for separate schools for White and Black students. From 1902 to 1940, especially after 1920, Texas school districts opened segregated schools for Hispanic children. By 1942–43 these schools were operated in 122 districts in fifty-nine counties throughout the state. On January 7, 1930, the Del Rio School Board ordered an election to be held on February 1 to vote on a proposed expansion of school facilities, including elementary schools, one of which, a brick and tile building of two rooms, was already designated the "Mexican" or "West End" school. Five rooms were to be added. Jesús Salvatierra and several other parents hired lawyer John L. Dodson on March 21 to file a suit charging that students of Mexican descent were being deprived of the benefits afforded "other White races" in the previous year. In April El Popular, the Spanish-language newspaper of the League of United Latin American Citizens, published an essay by Vito Aguirre condemning segregationists, whom he called "enemies of Mexican children," and criticizing the Mexican consulate's complacency on the issue. Also that month, lawyer and LULAC member M. C. Gonzales consulted with Dodson and joined the case free of charge. By May Salvatierra had a support group, La Comité de Defensa, later known as Comité Pro-Defensa Escolar. On May 15 District Judge Joseph Jones heard the case, ruled in Salvatierra's favor, and granted an injunction.

On June 10 the Court of Appeals of San Antonio heard the case. By June lawyers Alonso S. Perales and J. T. Canales were also assisting Salvatierra; Dodson, Gonzales, and Canales served as the appeal attorneys. The case, under the title Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra, appeared before the Texas Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio on October 29, and the injunction was voided. On December 24 a rehearing was denied.

LULAC provided the organizational and financial base for the movement against segregated schools, and Salvatierra's case spurred the growth of LULAC. According to George I. Sánchez in 1964, the Salvatierra ruling legalized the segregation of children of Mexican descent in schools through the third grade. During the case the first chapters of LULAC were organized in West Texas at San Angelo, Ozona, Sonora, and Marfa. The case also highlighted the need for regular communication. In late 1930 LULAC sponsored bulletins in the columns of Spanish-language newspapers; El Ciudadano, El Popular, and El Paladín came to serve as LULAC's official organs; in 1931 the weekly LULAC NOTES was issued; and in August 1931 LULAC News, the official monthly magazine, began publication. Spanish-language newspapers such as the Del Rio El Popular, Las Noticias, and La Semana followed the developments, and La Prensa of San Antonio reached many other Tejano communities. LULAC passed a resolution at its 1930 annual convention to assist the Del Rio chapter in its work on the case. In January 1931 Salvatierra asked LULAC chapters for contributions, and by April nine chapters had responded. In May LULAC elected Gonzales its president general, and in June he invited chapters to donate at least $5 each toward taking the case to the Supreme Court. Gonzales called a special convention in Kingsville on August 30, and by that date $493 had been raised. The convention's purpose was to convert the organization's monument fund for World War I veterans to the School Defense Fund, and at that convention each council was required to raise $45 for Salvatierra. In spite of the Great Depression, LULAC managed to raise more than $1,000. Councils in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Mission, La Grulla, Encino, Robstown, Edinburg, Falfurrias, San Diego, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Rio Grande City, Roma, Hebbronville, Kingsville, Sarita, San Angelo, Ozona, and Sonora collected funds. San Antonio, the largest chapter, raised $230; even the small council of Sarita raised its $45 quota. Sociedades mutualistas, Catholic groups, women's clubs, labor organizations, and Spanish-speaking PTAs sponsored dances, baseball games, meetings, interviews, and benefits to raise money for the cause. Important individual and collective fund-raising was conducted by Paul C. Jones and Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Castañon in San Antonio, Adela Sloss and Zacarias Gonzalez in San Juan, and Mrs. Jose Stillman, Mrs. Ben Garza, Mrs. Louis Wilmot, and Ernesto Meza in Corpus Christi. On October 26 the Supreme Court refused to hear the Salvatierra case and another case in which Mexicans in Menard County were prevented from jury duty for lack of jurisdiction. LULAC called a special convention in San Antonio on November 29 to discuss strategy for bringing about school desegregation. The Del Rio Comité Pro-Defensa Escolar continued to exist at least until October 1932. In 1948 in Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District, the United States District Court, Western District of Texas, ruled that maintaining separate schools for Mexican descent children violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, failure to enforce this ruling resulted in continued legal challenges through the 1950s and 1960s; arguments first presented in the Salvatierra case were heard as late as 1971 in Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD.

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). Arnoldo De León, They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes Toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821–1900 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983). 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
  • Court Cases
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Court Cases and Controversies
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression

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

Cynthia E. Orozco, “Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995
October 21, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: