ALAMOSA, Colorado, is the birthplace of the fight for desegregation in America. In 1912, Hispano children were forced to attend a separate school from their white peers. The Alamosa School Board justified their decisions by citing differences in language fluency, even though all the students were born in the U.S. and fluent in English.
When Francisco Maestas’ son, Miguel, was denied entrance into the white public school, he worked with other Mexican families to establish the Spanish American Union. The group petitioned against school segregation but was denied by the state superintendent. Following the superintendent’s decision, the group raised enough money to hire a lawyer, Raymond Sullivan. Sullivan took the school district to court and argued racial prejudice motivated the school administration to separate Hispano students from Caucasian students. The school board argued their actions were not discriminatory and helped address the language deficiency of Hispano students. In the end, district judge Charles Holbrook ruled in favor of Maestas and the Spanish American Union. Judge Holbrook stated, “the only way to destroy this feeling of discontent and bitterness which has recently grown up, is to allow all children so prepared, to attend the school nearest them.”
If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Maestas case, you aren’t alone. For how critical this case was in the fight for civil rights, it’s surprising how few people know about it. When we talk about desegregation, everyone thinks about Brown v. Board of Education, which happened over 30 years after the Maestas case. However, the history of desegregation in America is deeper than people think and includes Hispanics and Latinos.
We need to teach the history of desegregation more comprehensively. The legacy of Latinos like Francisco Maestas should not be overlooked because they are a foundational part of our state’s history and in the fight for racial justice. I encourage those reading this piece to learn more about Francisco Maestas’ place in history and share his story with others.