Man of the people

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Henry B. Gonzalez

1916 – 2000


nown as don de la Gente, “man of the people,” Henry B. Gonzalez was the first Mexican American elected to the Texas Senate, to run for governor of Texas, and to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Early Years

Henry B. Gonzalez’s parents came to the United States from Mexico in 1911 during the Mexican Revolution. He was raised in San Antonio and in 1943 graduated from Saint Mary’s University School of Law. After graduation, he served in World War II. He worked as a juvenile probation officer and helped his father run his translation service in San Antonio.

Public Service

In 1953, he began to commit his life to public service. He was elected to the San Antonio City Council where he supported desegregation laws for public facilities. Later, he was elected to the State Senate where he held the longest filibuster (36 hours) in the history of the Texas Legislature. The filibuster succeeded in stopping the passage of state laws that would bypass the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Brown v. Board of Education which outlawed racial segregation of public schools. He also worked for legislation that would improve housing and create a medical school. In 1958, he ran for governor but was defeated in the primary.

With the resignation of U.S. Representative Paul J. Kilday (D-TX), Gonzalez was elected to the U.S. Representatives and served in that position till his retirement in 1998. During his years of service, he worked to pass legislation that would improve civil rights, ownership of small business and the United States’ relationship with Latin America.
He gained national attention in 1977 by being appointed chairman of the committee that was established to investigate the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. His last time in the national spotlight would be in 1992 when he requested the investigation of the Bush administration’s involvement in loans to Iraq.
His Legacy

After dedicating his life to public service for almost 50 years, Henry B. Gonzalez died on November 29, 2000 at the age of 84. His work at improving the lives of American citizens continues as his most important legacy.

Adapted from and The Center of American History at the University of Texas

Photos: The Center for American History, the University of Texas

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