Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Time: 5pm
Location: Stuart 414 - Faculty Lounge
Sponsored by: LALSA & ACS
Brazilian Food will be provided

Please come to hear guest speaker Professor Michael Olivas of University of Houston talk about his book: "Colored Men" and "Hombres Aqui": Hernandez v. Texas and the Emergence of Mexican American Lawyering. Professor Olivas will discuss the litigation history of Hernandez v. Texas, the 1954 US Supreme Court case that was decided w/in 10 days of the Brown v. Board decision. The case involved jury selection in Jim Crow Jackson County, Texas, following the 1951 shooting of Joe Espinosa by Pete Hernandez in Edna, Texas.

When Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life imprison by an all-white jury, his lawyers argued that he had not been tried by a jury of his peers, and that no Mexican American had ever been called to jury duty in the County. While the State's highest court of Criminal Appeals sided with the State, attorneys John Herrera, James deAnda, Carlos Cadena, and Gus Garcia took the case to the US Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. This was the first case ever tried by Mexican American lawyers in the US Supreme Court.

Because it was overshadowed by the glare of the greater Brown case, many people do not know this case, decided fifty years ago. It is very significant. First, it contains extraordinary anti-subordination language, perhaps better even than that in Brown. Second, it reveals the extent to which a nascent minority group organized itself, without legal organizations or ethnic machinery such as that created by Blacks to attack segregation. Third, it reveals Jim Crow conditions for Mexicans in the South, and had resonance for the larger issue of how minorities fare in the criminal justice system. Finally, it is a fascinating tale in its own terms.

A full-length book has been published by Arte Publico Press in 2006, and contains the papers and extensive materials on the case: Michael A. Olivas, ed. "COLORED MEN” and “HOMBRES AQUI": Hernandez v. Texas and the Emergence of Mexican American Lawyering (Arte Publico Press, 2006).

The title comes from the Court's paragraph:

"The petitioner's initial burden in substantiating his charge of group discrimination was to prove that persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class in Jackson County, distinct from "whites." One method by which this may be demonstrated is by showing the attitude of the community. Here the testimony of responsible officials and citizens contained the admission that residents of the community distinguished between "white" and "Mexican." The participation of persons of Mexican descent in business and community groups was shown to be slight. Until very recent times, children of Mexican descent were required to attend a segregated school for the first four grades. At least one restaurant in town prominently displayed a sign announcing "No Mexicans Served." On the courthouse grounds at the time of the hearing, there were two men's toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked "Colored Men" and "Hombres Aqui" ("Men Here"). No substantial evidence was offered to rebut the logical inference to be drawn from these facts, and it must be concluded that petitioner succeeded in his proof."

Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475, 479-80 (1954) (footnotes and references omitted)