Oscar Manuel Laurel, Sr., attorney, Hispanic rights leader, state legislator, and banker, was born on June 8, 1920, in Laredo, Texas, to Zaragoza and Maria (Martinez) Laurel. One of seven children, he grew up in Laredo, graduated from Martin High School, and attended Loyola of the South, a Catholic University in New Orleans. During World War II he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps as an airplane mechanic. After Laurel’s military service, which lasted from 1941 to the end of the war in 1945 and saw his promotion to staff sergeant, he received a law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1950 and returned to Laredo to begin his career as an attorney. There, in 1951 he married Elsa Gonzales, and the couple had two children, Elsa L. (Nicholson) and Oscar M. Laurel, Jr.
Laurel’s legal career included a long tenure as an attorney in Laredo, appointment as special investigator for the city’s district attorney’s office (1952–56), and later election as district attorney for Webb, Zapata, and Dimmit counties (1964–67). Laurel served a number of foundations and organizations during his life, most significantly as president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC [1955–56]); member of the National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty (1967); member of the National Transportation Safety Board, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson (1967–72); executive director of the Good Neighbor Commission of Texas (1973–75); president of the International Good Neighbor Council (1978–79); chairperson of the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis, now known as the March of Dimes (1964–65, 1977–78); and president of the Optimist Club of Laredo (1977–78). In Laredo, Laurel cofounded Falcon International Bank, one of the largest Hispanic-owned banks in the United States, with his son. He also participated in ranching throughout his life.
Laurel’s most significant achievement was his service as a Democratic Texas State Representative for District 80 (Webb and Zapata counties) from 1957 to 1961. When he entered office, Laurel was one of just two Hispanic legislators in Texas at the time and one of only a handful to have ever been elected in Texas. During his legislative tenure, Laurel served on eleven committees and opposed the classification of peyote as an illegal drug. After serving as a representative in the Texas House, Laurel aided in the election of Democratic presidential nominee Lyndon Baines Johnson and served as state chairman for the Viva Johnson clubs, which helped Johnson secure the Hispanic vote.
Oscar Manuel Laurel, Sr., died on March 29, 2001, and was buried at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Laredo after a funeral Mass in the city’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. A bust in the Webb County Courthouse commemorates Laurel and his many contributions to his community.
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Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Oscar M. Laurel (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=1072&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=laurel~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed March 17, 2017. “Oscar Manuel Laurel, Sr,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=93771572), accessed March 17, 2017. “Oscar M. Laurel,” Past Presidents, League of United Latin American Citizens (http://lulac.org/about/history/past_presidents/oscar_laurel/), accessed March 17, 2017.
John P. Schmal, "The Tejano Struggle for Representation,” The Hispanic Experience (http://www.houstonculture.org/hispanic/tejano2.html), accessed March 17, 2017.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert J. Foltz,
“Laurel, Oscar Manuel Sr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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