Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy continues to educate and inspire nearly fifty years after his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. The pastor and activist not only fought for racial equality through nonviolent civil disobedience, but King, and the larger Civil Rights Movement, encouraged and supported Latino activists and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.
As we pay tribute to King, here are some of the Latino civil rights leaders who were inspired by his courage and resolve:
Described as "one of the heroic figures of our time" by Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Cesar Estrada Chavez turned the injustices and hardships he saw early in life as a farm worker into inspiration for his championing of workers' rights. The Mexican-American leader co-founded the
National Farm Workers Association, alongside Dolores Huerta, in 1966. He organized numerous boycotts, fasts, strikes and marches. When Chavez and millions of Americans who supported farm workers boycotted grapes and other products, Governor Jerry Brown of California passed the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the nation's first, and still the only, law guaranteeing farm workers the right to organize, choose their own union representative and negotiate with their employers.
Chavez once noted King "showed us the way." In a
telegram to Chavez, King wrote: "As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members... You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized."
Chavez died in his sleep on April 23,1993.
Dolores Huerta is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Like King, Huerta works tirelessly to end social and economic inequalities and is known for her work getting fair treatment and rights for migrant workers. The Chicana trailblazer and feminist was very influential in launching the nationwide grape boycott to pressure growers for higher wages, which resulted in the historic win. Huerta and Chavez helped start the Farm Workers Credit Union, the first credit union for farm workers; the National Farm Workers Service Center, which provides affordable housing; and medical coverage to union members via the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan. Although Huerta stepped down from her position at the UFW in 1999, she's continued advocating for the working poor, women and children. She's the founder and president of the
Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Humberto Noe "Bert" Corona
Civil Rights leader Bert Corona, the son of a commander in the Mexican Revolution, was an advocate for undocumented workers. Although often compared to Chavez, Corona differed with the leader regarding his stance on undocumented workers, arguing that these workers should be organized rather than deported. He joined labor organizer Luisa Moreno in building the League of Spanish-Speaking People, one of the first national organizations for Mexican-Americans, and later helped form the Mexican-American Political Association, the first statewide Mexican American political group in California. King invited Corona and other organizers to Atlanta to plan for the March on Poverty; unfortunately, he was assassinated before the march took place. Corona, who did not have a college degree, lectured at Stanford and taught at Cal State campuses at San Diego, Northridge, Fullerton and Los Angeles. He died in 2001 at the age of 82.
Gilberto Gerena Valentin
A vital figure in the establishment of the Puerto Rican community in the U.S., Gilberto Gerena Valentin was an activist, union organizer and community leader. He helped found and develop major Puerto Rican organizations such as the Congreso de Pueblos, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the National Association for Puerto Rican Civil Rights, the Puerto Rican Folklore Festival and the Puerto Rican Community Development Project. Gerena Valentin was a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission and a New York City councilman. He mobilized Puerto Ricans for the historic marches on Washington in 1963 and 1968, and the New York City school boycott of 1964. He now lives in Puerto Rico.
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales
Civil Rights activist and Chicano leader Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales is known for his work in the movement for justice and equality for Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. But he is best known for his poem
"I am Joaquin/Yo Soy Joaquin," arguably one of the most important literary works to come out of the Chicano movement. The poem details the historic struggles faced by Mexican-Americans in the US. In 1968, Gonzales led a Chicano group to the Poor People's March on Washington DC. The founder of the Chicano nationalism movement Crusade for Justice died at the age of 76.
Reies Lopez Tijerina
A notable (and controversial) member of the Chicano movement, Reies Lopez Tijerina gained national attention as the leader of the armed raid on the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in northern New Mexico in 1967. He founded
La Alianza Federal de Mercedes
, a group that worked to help Mexicans and American Indians reclaim the Spanish and Mexican land grants they held before the U.S.-Mexican War in 1846. The preacher-turned-social justice advocate died last year in El Paso at the age of 88.
Jose Angel Gutierrez
Jose Angel Gutierrez is one of the four horsemen of the Chicano Movement, which includes Tijerina, Chavez and Corky Gonzales. He founded the La Raza Unida Political Party in the 1970s and the organization saw success in registering Chicanos to vote and get elected in local communities. Prior to La Raza, Gutierrez founded the
Mexican-American Youth Organization
(MAYO) in San Antonio in 1967. He is currently an attorney and professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.