During his lengthy career in politics, Edward Roybal was known to many as “the Dean of California’s Latino Legislators” because of his pioneering efforts on behalf of Hispanic Americans, first locally and later on the national level.
Roybal was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the oldest of eight children of a hard¬ working railroad man. When Roybal was a boy, his mother gave him a necktie. He wore the necktie wherever he went, because it sym¬ bolized what he wanted to become when he grew up—an educated professional.He graduated from high school during the Great Depression.
To help support his family, he went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal government program designed to employ young men from eighteen to twen¬ ty-five. Later, he enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he earned his degree in business administration.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he returned to California and became the director of health education for the Los Angeles County Tuberculosis and Health Association.In 1947, Roybal made an unsuccessful run for the L.A. City Council.
In the aftermath of his defeat, he helped found the Community Service Organization (CSO). The group eventually became prominent in the Hispanic civil rights movement and was the training ground for notable civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez (see no. 47) and Dolores Huerta (see no. 55).
In 1949, with the help of voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives organized by CSO, Roybal won a seat on the L.A. City Council, becoming the first Latino to hold that position in the twentieth century. After four terms on the council, he won a seat in the U.S. Congress in 1962. He was the first Hispanic Congressman from California since Romualdo Pacheco (see no. 14) served, in the late 1800s.
While in Congress, Roybal authored the first bill to create and support bilingual pro¬ grams in public schools. He also introduced legislation to provide bilingual proceedings in courts to help eliminate discrimination in the legal system. In 1976, he became one of the founding members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he later chaired.
While he was the chair, he led opposition to a bill that imposed sanctions on U.S. employers who hired illegal immigrants.Roybal was also a strong advocate for legis¬ lation to aid the elderly, mentally disabled, and veterans.
He sponsored and supported bills to eliminate age discrimination, create housing and community care facilities for seniors, pro¬ vide mental health care programs, and create jobs for war veterans.In 1992, Roybal retired from Congress after serving for thirty years. His daughter, Lucille Roybal-Allard (see no. 70), won the election to replace him that same year.