Francisco “Pancho” Medrano, labor and civil rights leader, son of Sabas Medrano and Nicolasa Ruiz Franco, was born in the Little Mexico neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, on August 2, 1920. Medrano went to St. Ann’s Parochial School and Crozier Tech High School before dropping out of high school after a principal pulled him from class for having damaged shoes. The principal connected Medrano to a job at a rock quarry near Bachman Lake where Medrano could earn enough money to purchase clothing to attend school. While working at the quarry, he was admitted to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) school. Following his training at the WPA, he worked at the North American Aviation Plant in Dallas during World War II. While working at the aviation plant he became involved in union work as a member of the Local 645 of the United Auto Workers-Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO). He was an elected sergeant-at-arms and trustee for his local union chapter (which later became Local 848). When he was a teenager, Medrano had taken up boxing. (His neighborhood priest had encouraged him and provided training.) At the North American Aviation Plant, Medrano regularly fought in matches within the company during his lunch hour and gained the reputation as a strong heavyweight fighter. North American Aviation also sent him out of state to fight in other matches within the company. According to Medrano’s account in a 1997 interview, he was fired by North American Aviation when he turned professional as a boxer. He devoted himself fully to union work but apparently later went back to work for the plant, which had been acquired by Chance Vought Corporation.
In 1963 Medrano began working for the UAW organization full time. He was assigned to represent the UAW in Starr County, Texas, in 1967. Farmworkers and laborers protested against working conditions and salaries, and acts of violence against picketers by Texas Rangers were reported (see STARR COUNTY STRIKE). While photographing the arrest of picketers, Medrano was arrested and allegedly punched. He filed a civil suit on behalf of himself and the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, the AFL-CIO, and picketers against the Texas Rangers, officers of the state of Texas, and other public officials of Starr County, Texas. The suit alleged that Texas statutes banning mass demonstrations were unconstitutional and that the defendants deprived the plaintiffs of their civil rights and protections of the laws and Constitution of the United States. The case, Medrano v. Allee, was ultimately taken (as Allee v. Medrano ) to the U. S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Medrano. A permanent injunction was placed against the defendants restraining them from enforcing the voided statutes and from interfering with the civil rights of plaintiffs and the class they represented. This suit helped protect protestors in Texas and changed the laws regarding picketing, strikes, and protests in Texas.
After returning to Dallas, Medrano was active in leading community support for Mexican American civil rights causes. When Thomas Rodriguez and his wife were shot during a controversial police raid in Dallas, he posted bond for Rodriguez and helped lead an interracial response to the shooting. Medrano led a 200-person march in support of the family during the Shrine Spring Parade. Medrano was also an active member of the protests and community responses following the shooting of twelve-year-old Santos Rodriguez in 1973.
Medrano identified as Chicano, and he worked to build connections between Black and Brown communities and organizations. At times he expressed frustration with Mexican American organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the American G.I. Forum for their hesitancy towards organizing and participating in protests. Medrano was active in politics and encouraged his community to become involved. He was known by his quote, “In America, everything is politics, from the day you are born, until the day you die.” In 1954 he helped form the Dallas chapter of the American G.I. Forum, and in 1975 he became a member of the executive committee of the Tejano Political Action Committee (Tex-PAC).
As a representative of the UAW, Medrano met high-profile civil and political leaders. He visited President Jimmy Carter in 1977 when the president met with a fifteen-member UAW delegation. He returned to the White House in 1979 to meet with Pope John Paul II after being invited for his work with the Medrano v. Allee case. Medrano took an active role, not only in his home state, but in significant civil rights events across the country, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama, and demonstrations by Cesar Chavez.
Medrano was married to Esperanza Jimenez, and they had five children: Francisco Jr., Roberto, Ricardo, Rolando, and Pauline. Several of his children became involved in Dallas politics. Ricardo and Pauline served on the Dallas city council, and Pauline served as a mayor pro tem. Roberto was a trustee of Dallas Independent School District, and Medrano’s grandson by Francisco, Adam Medrano, was elected to the Dallas city council in 2013 and also served as a mayor pro tem.
Pancho Medrano died on April 4, 2002, and was buried at Calvary Hill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Dallas. Francisco “Pancho” Medrano Middle School was named in his honor as well as a post office in East Dallas.