Between Mendez and Brown: Gonzales v. Sheely (1951) and the Legal Campaign Against Segregation

Authors

Errata

This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Errata to Law & Social Inquiry 33(1), 2008 Volume 33, Issue 2, 573, Article first published online: 2 May 2008

  • Jeanne M. Powers is Assistant Professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Arizona State University.

  • Lirio Patton is a doctoral student in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

  • Direct comments to the first author by email at jeanne.powers@asu.edu or by mail at the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Arizona State University. P. O. Box 872411, Tempe AZ 85287-2411.

  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Sociology of Education Association Annual Conference in 2004 and the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in 2005. We would like to thank the archivists at the National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region (Laguna Niguel); the National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Region (San Francisco); the National Archives and Records Administration, Southwest Region (Fort Worth, Texas); the Chicano Research Collection at Arizona State University; and the Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas at Austin for their assistance and expertise. We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers whose comments helped us improve this article.

Abstract

On March 26, 1951, three years before the historic Brown decision, in Gonzales v. Sheeley (1951), Judge Dave Ling of the United States District Court of Arizona ruled that the segregation of Mexican American students in a separate “Mexican School” was unconstitutional. In this article, we trace the legal arguments in Gonzales through two prior cases, Mendez v. Westminster (1946) and Delgado v. Bastrop (1948). We analyze how racialism, the social science critique of racism and legalism, shaped the arguments in the three cases. Our analysis suggests that Gonzales was a departure from Mendez and Delgado because it was the first case in which a court made an unqualified argument against segregation. The trajectory of the legal arguments across the three cases highlights how new cultural ideas about race were slowly incorporated into civil rights case law, a process that was also shaped by the institutional norms and practices of the legal system.

Ancillary