Henry B. Gonzales

Henry B. Gonzales

(1916-1998)

One of the most outspoken members to serve in the U.S. Congress, Enrique Barbosa Gonzales was born in San Antonio, Texas. His father had been the mayor of the town of Mapimi in the Mexican state of Durango, but in 1911, the family fled to Texas to escape the Mexican Revolution.

Gonzales was raised in San Antonio, where he attended high school and college. In 1943, he graduated from St. Mary’s University School of Law. After law school, he worked for military and naval intelligence as a cable and radio censor during World War II.

In the 1930s, Gonzales embarked on a career in politics. He was elected to the San Antonio City Council in 1953 and served as mayor pro-tempore for part of his first term. While on the city council, Gonzales began to define himself as an outspoken defender of liberal causes. He denounced segregation of public facilities and helped San Antonio adopt desegregation ordinances.

In 1956, Gonzales was elected to the Texas state senate. In 1957, he and another legislator filibustered for thirty-six hours against several segregation bills. It was the longest filibuster in the history of the Texas legislature, and it drew national media attention.

In 1958, Gonzales made an unsuccessful run for governor of Texas. Two years later, he and U.S. Senator Dennis Chavez (see no. 23) of New Mexico served as national co-chairmen of the Viva Kennedy Clubs, which organized Hispanic voters for John F. Kennedy’s presi¬ dential campaign.

In 1961, Gonzales became the first Hispanic elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. In the House, he continued his reputation as a crusader. In 1963, he opposed increased funding for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the controversial committee that had waged an uncompromis¬ ing campaign against communism.

In 1977, he was appointed chair of the House Assassinations Committee, which was estab¬ lished to investigate the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He quit his post, however, to protest what he believed was the corrupting influence of organized crime on the investigation.

Gonzales never ran for office on a Hispanic platform, although many of the causes he championed as a legislator benefited his Hispanic constituents. In the 1960s, he led the charge to end the bracero program, which had fostered abusive conditions for nonresident farmworkers, most of whom came from Mexico.

During his tenure, he also successfully advocated for civil rights, affordable housing, and small business legislation. As his career progressed, Gonzales became the elder states¬ man of Hispanic representatives, having served longer than any other Hispanic in Congress.