Who is Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales?

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales

(1928-)

Boxer, businessman, poet, and civil rights organizer, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales became one of the most important leaders of the Chicano movement during the 1960s. Born in Denver, Colorado, Gonzales was three years old when his mother died. He attended several schools as a boy, while his father migrated throughout Colorado taking work in coal mines and in the fields.

As a teenager, Gonzales became a skilled boxer. He won the national and international Golden Gloves championships and turned professional after high school. He had a win¬ ning career that lasted more than eight years.

After boxing, Gonzales became a business¬ man. He ran a tavern in Denver and then a bail bond business, and later, he ran an auto¬ mobile insurance agency. During this time, he also got involved in politics and social service. He became a leader in the Democratic party

and was considered a possible candidate for state or federal office, until 1966. That year, Gonzales terminated all of his political involve¬ ment after a local newspaper accused him of discrimination in administering Denvers War on Poverty program.

Gonzales then became active in La Raza, the movement to win equality for Mexican Americans in the United States. He formed an organization, La Cruzada Para La Justicia (the Crusade for Justice), whose objective was to secure civil rights and economic and political equality for Chicanos.

In 1967, Gonzales displayed his literary tal¬ ents when he published IAm Joaquin, an epic poem that appeared in book form. It recalls the life of the slain Gold Rush-era bandit and folk hero, Joaquin Murieta (see no. 15), as a metaphor for the plight of Mexican Americans in the United States. It was arguably Gonzales’s most important contribution to the cause, as it became an emblem for the movement.

Throughout the late 1960s, Gonzales was one of the national leaders of La Raza. In 1968, he joined Reies Lopez Tijerina (see no. 46) as one of the Hispanic leaders of the Poor Peoples’ March to Washington, D.C. Gonzales also espoused many of the same views as Tijerina regarding self-determination and the need for a national homeland for people of Mexican descent in the southwestern United States.

In 1970, Gonzales formed the Colorado La Raza Unida Party (LRUP) and became its first state chairman. In 1972, he lost a power strug¬ gle with the chairman of the Texas LRUP, Jose Angel Gutierrez (see no. 75), to become the first national chairman of the party.

Slowly, Gonzales retreated from the nation¬ al spotlight as a civil rights leader. During the 1980s, he returned to boxing as a promoter and trainer. He continued to run the Crusade for Justice, however, and to speak out on civil rights issues.