Gustavo (Gus) C. Garcia, Mexican-American civil-rights lawyer, was born on July 27, 1915, in Laredo to Alfredo and Maria Teresa (Arguindegui) Garcia. The family moved to San Antonio, where Garcia attended Catholic and public schools and graduated as the first valedictorian from Thomas Jefferson High in 1932. He received an academic scholarship to the University of Texas, where he received a B.A. degree in 1936 and an LL.B. in 1938. He passed the bar exam in the latter year.
Garcia was assistant to Bexar County district attorney John Schook in 1938 and to assistant city attorney Victor Keller in 1941, when he was drafted for service in World War II. He became a first lieutenant in the United States infantry and was stationed in Japan with the judge advocate corps. After the war he returned to San Antonio. When the United Nations was founded in 1945 in San Francisco he participated. On February 1, 1947, he joined the office of the Mexican Consulate General in San Antonio. In April 1947 he filed suit on school authorities in Cuero to force closure of the Mexican school there. After the Mendez v. Westminster ISD case ended de jure segregation of Mexican-descent children in California, Garcia filed a similar suit in Texas, aided by Robert C. Eckhardt of Austin and A. L. Wirin of the Los Angeles Civil Liberties Union. Delgado v. Bastrop ISD (1948) made illegal the segregation of children of Mexican descent in Texas.
In 1939–40 Garcia served as legal advisor to the League of United Latin American Citizens. He was elected to the San Antonio Independent School District Board of Education in April 1948 and resigned around December 1952. He helped revise the 1949 LULAC Constitution to permit non-Mexican Americans to become members. That year he also served as lawyer to the family of Felix Longoria (see FELIX LONGORIA AFFAIR) and helped contract negotiations for the rights of workers in the United States-Mexico Bracero Program. On May 8, 1950, Garcia and George I. Sanchez appeared before the State Board of Education to seek desegregation enforcement. Garcia was legal advisor to the American G.I. Forum from 1951 to 1952. He worked to pass a general antidiscrimination bill in Texas, served on the first board of directors of the American Council of Spanish Speaking People and the Texas Council on Human Relations, and helped the School Improvement League (the Pro Schools Defence League), the League of Loyal Americans, the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, and the Pan American Optimist Club. In 1952 the University of Texas Alba Club named him "Latin of the Year."
Around 1952 Garcia was an attorney in the case of Hernandez v. State of Texas. On January 19, 1953, he and attorney Carlos Cadena of San Antonio filed a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court to seek review of the Hernandez case, since the trial was decided by an all-White jury in Edna. When Garcia appeared before the Supreme Court on January 11, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren gave him sixteen extra minutes to present his argument. The Supreme Court voted unanimously in favor of Hernandez.
In 1955 Garcia had several hospital stays, probably because of a struggle with alcohol. Invitations to LULAC and the G.I. Forum meetings and conventions declined by 1956. That year Garcia and Homero M. Lopez operated a law firm in Kingsville. After Garcia passed several bad checks in December 1960 and January 1961, James Tafolla, Jr., and seven other lawyers of San Antonio filed a complaint against him seeking disbarment. His law license was suspended from August 1961 until August 1963.
Garcia was married three times and had two children with his second wife. He died of a seizure in an office in the Old Farmer's Market on June 3, 1964, and was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery at San Antonio. LULAC arranged his services; in July 1964 the league established the Gus C. Garcia Memorial Fund. A San Antonio Junior High School was named after Garcia. In 1983 the Gus Garcia Memorial Foundation was established in San Antonio to sponsor programs and other media events to recognize his contribution.