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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

L.A. Celebrates 68 Years of Integration

In 1946, segregation in California schools was ruled unconstitutional. 

As the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, nearly 100 students from Wilson High School and Esteban Torres High School filled the Los Angeles Superior Court today to learn about civil rights from a living legend on Monday. 

Sylvia Mendez was one of the first California students to attend an integrated school in the state when her father launched a lawsuit against his daughter’s segregated school district.

Mendez says her father, Gonzalo, was furious at the idea that his children had to attend an all-Mexican elementary school because all-white schools within the district had greater resources than those populated by students of color.  

In conjunction with four other families, Mendez sued the school district of Orange County and won. The case prompted integration in California schools eight years before the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education ruling. 

But many local LA students don’t learn about the important role Mendez v. Westminster played in desegregating the state’s school system in their classes, according to Mendez. Her solution for this is to personally educate as many people as she can.

“California was the first state to be integrated and people aren’t aware of the history of this state and I think my goal is for everybody to know about this,” said Mendez. 

Sandra Robbie, also present Monday, wrote and produced the Emmy-winning documentary film Mendez v. Westminster that screened at the event. Her goal in creating the film was to shed light on how segregation is not only a black and white issue. 

Sixty years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Mendez and Robbie believe there are still more strides needed to achieve equality in the United States. 

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