The Good Neighbor Commission was established in 1943 as a state agency to handle social, cultural, and economic problems of Mexican Americans in Texas and to strengthen political ties of Texas with Mexico and other Latin American nations. The commission's origins are traceable in part to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fears that German sentiment was sweeping Latin America. In 1940 Roosevelt established an agency, soon named the Office of Inter-American Affairs, designed to promote better cultural and economic relations with Latin America. The OIAA quickly became aware of the related need to improve Anglo-Hispanic relations in the southwestern United States to counteract Latin America's fascist propagandists, for instance, who were using photographs of signs in Texas restaurant windows proclaiming "No Mexicans." In 1943 the OIAA dispatched field representatives to Texas and California to develop local interest in coping with these problems.
The wartime demand for field hands and other laborers in the Southwest led to the 1942 bracero agreement between Mexico and the United States, but in June 1943 the Mexican government placed a ban on the movement of laborers into Texas because of discrimination against Mexicans. Governor Coke R. Stevenson's eventual reaction-upon requests by OIAA field agent Tom Sutherland and others- was to appoint, in 1943, a six-man Good Neighbor Commission, funded by the OIAA. The commission emphasized education, the improvement of housing and health measures for migrant workers, and the solution of human relations problems.
The Good Neighbor Commission was placed on the state payroll in 1945. In 1947 Mexico lifted the ban on Texas, but GNC Executive Secretary Pauline R. Kibbe reported to the GNC that despite the new agreement, discrimination and poor housing were still prevalent. Pressure from Valley growers forced the secretary's resignation. In 1948 commission chairman Bob Smith avoided the migrant labor issue but continued to carry out antidiscrimination work through Tom Sutherland, the new executive secretary, who helped in desegregating the Texas public schools in favor of Mexican Americans (see DELGADO V. BASTROP ISD). In 1949 an attack on the commission's antidiscrimination stand was made by state representative J. F. Gray, when a mortician in Three Rivers refused the services of his funeral home to the family of Felix Longoria, a Mexican Texan killed in action during World War II (see FELIX LONGORIA AFFAIR). The commission supported the Longoria family in its discrimination claim, and, at Lyndon B. Johnson's instigation, Longoria was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Gray's attempt to abolish the commission failed. Under oilman Neville Penrose, discrimination issues were turned over, in part, to the newly founded Texas Council on Human Relations, and the commission became involved in counseling and information services, translating for other agencies, and publicity and liaison between the Texas government and various Mexican state and national agencies. During the following years the roles of the commission varied. Under Penrose little was done to alleviate discrimination problems. Other commissioners made significant efforts to eliminate discrimination, provide solutions to language problems, and take an active part in migrant affairs. Close ties were developed by executive directors with the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum of Texas. Some discrimination cases were personally handled by commission chairmen, and under governors John B. Connally and Preston Smith the commission was used as a liaison with Mexico and Latin America. In 1965 the Texas Council on Migrant Labor was abolished and its work transferred to the commission with an increased staff and budget. The commission, however, could not compete with the newly founded federal Office of Economic Opportunity, which took over many of the problems originally handled by the state agency. In 1977 the commission was reviewed under the Texas Sunset Act by the Sunset Advisory Commission and retained as a coordinating, planning, and advisory agency responsible for overseeing migrant problems, developing national and international cooperation, and supporting educational exchange programs with Mexico. During the following ten years the duties of the Good Neighbor Commission were gradually absorbed by other agencies, however, and budget cuts in 1987 resulted in its abolition.