1920s: “a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school.” (Foley, The White Scourge)

Miscegenation laws forbade the marriage of blacks with whites, but because Mexicans were often regarded as nonwhite, even if they were legally white, they were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.[13] In one particular case the law was applied for entirely different reasons than that of intermarriage. During the 1920s a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school. Mexican children in this township attended the white school in separate classrooms for the first two or three years; afterwards, only a token few, usually the ones Anglo teachers singled out as being “clean” and “not like the others,” were permitted to continue their education. A judge from Dimmit County, where the case was tried, told Paul Taylor: “The Negroes with Negro-Mexican children and the Mexicans wanted to send their children to the white school, so when that started… they just indicted and tried them for violating the law against intermarriage. Then they tipped off the women that if they had nigger blood they could not put the men in jail.”[14] Lemmon’s Mexican [209] wife confessed that she must be part black in order to have charges dropped against her husband for marrying a white person. This “proved that all the Mexicans were black,” reported one county resident, “so we put the Mexicans and Negroes together in school and employed a part Negro to teach them.”[15] The judge solved the problem of segregating Mexicans from whites in a town that had only two schools for three ethnic groups by changing the racial classification of Mexicans to black.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208-209.

 

  1. [13]Interview with H. H. Schultz, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas, no. 192-363, folder “American Government Officials,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. When whites married Mexicans, especially of the “peon” class (dark-skinned), they were said to have descended “to the level of the Mexicans” (interview with Mr. Martin, county agent, El Paso County, Texas, no. 85-90, folder “Along Rio Grande,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers). For a fine study of miscegenation law and racial ideology, see Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,” 44-69.
  2. [14]Interview with Judge Wildenthal, no. 54-644, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers.
  3. [15]Interview with John Asker, no. 42-634, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers, and interview with Bob Lemmons, no. 246-417, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. Asker told Taylor that he liked Mexicans but added, “You can’t make a rose out of an onion.”

1893: “The statute defined colored as ‘all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry. Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law…” (Foley)

1893: state segregation law for schools still defines “colored” as “Negro ancestry” / BB&W, 129

Second, Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to Mexicans, inasmuch as they were officially recognized as “white.” In Texas, for example, the legislature passed a law in 1893, six years before the Supreme Court mandated “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, that required separate schools for the state’s white and “colored” children. The statute defined colored as “all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry.”[11] Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law, and school districts defended the practice on the grounds that Mexican children did not speak English and spent part of the school year with their families as migrant agricultural workers. When Mexican American civil rights activists were able to show that Mexican children were arbitrarily segregated, regardless of English-language facility, the courts generally ruled in favor of the plaintiff Mexican Americans.[12]

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 129.

 

  1. [11]C. H. Jenkins, The Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, Annotated, (Austin: H. P. N. Gammel Book Co., 1925), vol. 1, p. 1036.
  2. [12]See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “The Origins, Development, and Consequences of the Educational Segregation of Mexicans in the Southwest,” in Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Eugene E. García, Francisco Lomeli, and Isidro Ortiz (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), pp. 195-208.

“the mayor assured me that not only would they receive Mexican children gladly in the public schools, but that he would personally accompany the parents to enroll the children” (Tafolla)

But his encounters with local communities were not always pleasant. In the primarily Catholic communities in which he preached, Protestantism was seen as worse than even the Papally condemned Masonry. A community dispute in Corpus Christi over the validity of local schools and their openness to Mexican-American students proved to be a thinly veiled “civil war” between community Catholics and community Protestants. The following interchange, between Santiago and the editor of a newspaper in Corpus Christi, Texas, early in his preaching career, shows evidence of this friction.

An article in the Spanish-language newspaper El Horizonte expressed doubt as to whether the public “American” schools would accept Mexican-American children, “tiempo perdido a mandar a nuestros niños a las escuelas americanas.” So Santiago, newly arrived to town with three school-age children, goes to see the mayor “con algún temor de ser avergonzado,” and asks him if this is true.

But the mayor assured me that not only would they receive Mexican children gladly in the public schools, but that he would personally accompany the parents to enroll the children, which is what he did with me…

Any honorable man and good citizen should pledge their efforts for the education of our youth. For only in this manner will the government end up having good citizens. But I see in this article complaints against the administrators of our public school system….

[97] With that letter, (and with his vocal presence in the community) he drew the ire of the editorial staff, and a long duel of newspaper letters followed between Santiago and Santos López, where Santiago writes “Usted no ha olido la doctrina de Cristo pues pertenece al sistema esparío de la iglesia romana” and Santos López responds, “¿Dónde aprendioacute; a espresarse así, don Santiaguito? ¿Sería en alguna cantina de San Antonio?” He also accuses Santiago of preaching falsehoods, because “it is all based on absurdities, a natural fruit of Protestant reform.” The arguments descend from there to a mocking verse about a Tafolla who “confuses error with truth … ignorance with science … and vice with virtue.” Much of their dispute over educational systems appears to be mere preface for the deeper argument between them–the conflict between the two religious traditions. By, in effect, “integrating” their mexicano religious community, Santiago upset the status quo, and challenged traditional community power structures.

Carmen Tafolla, “Epilogue,” A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. 96-97 [91-106].

[ca. 1881? maybe a few years later?]