Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004 Page: 34
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BY SAM CHILDERS
41rrank Hernandez remembers well his first
encounter with discrimination. He was in
the sixth grade attending Catholic school in
Galveston. "I played flag football with some
other kids from my school on a team we named
the 40th Street Panthers," he recalled. "We lived
a couple of blocks away from a city park, and we
applied for the city league but we were denied."
He went to his father for advice. "Reapply," was
his father's answer. "Ask questions; find out why
you can't play."
He went to City Hall and demanded to see
the rule that excluded the Panthers from playing.
The city's recreation director couldn't come up
with an answer and the team was allowed to join
the league. "It was the first time I had ever felt
discrimination," he said.
Hernandez was born in Galveston, the son
of Herculano and Elida Hernandez. His father
was a croupier at the city's Balinese Room and
was "in the middle of the totem pole" of the
city's gambling and vice figures."We didn't call it
the Mafia, but that's what it was," he recalled. He
described his father as "intelligent, subtle and
quiet," and his mother as a religious, active
fundraiser for the Catholic Church. Although he
grew up surrounded by questionable associates
of his father, his dad stressed the importance of
obtaining an education. Hernandez recalled his
father's advice: "If you put it up here," he said as
he pointed to his head, "they can never take it
away from you."
After turning down a League of United
Latin American Citizens (LULAC) scholarship
at St. Mary's University in San Antonio,
Hernandez attended Texas A & M with hopes of
becoming a petroleum engineer. He quickly
learned that it wasn't what he wanted to do as a
career and switched his major to economics,
paying for his education by working and with
scholarships obtained by serving as the school's
head baseball and later football manager under
coaching legends Bear Bryant and Gene
Stallings. Upon graduation from A & M in 1961,
he drove his 1948 Plymouth to Dallas with his
wife, whom he married in December of his senior
year. His wife, a nurse, was able to obtain a
job immediately, but Hernandez wasn't sure
what to do next. He applied for and was accepted
to SMU Law School and took a job as a carpenter's
assistant with Fox and Jacobs the summer
before the semester started. Realizing that
he would need more money than the Fox and
Jacobs job paid to cover his tuition, he
approached Dr. Arthur A. Smith, a leading economist
in the Southwest and a director of the First
National Bank. Armed with a budget detailing
exactly how much money he would need for
school, he told Smith, "I want to become a
lawyer so I can change this society." Smith not
only gave Hernandez a job processing night
transfer checks on Fridays and Saturdays, but
arranged for the Park Cities Rotary Club to loan
him $1,000 for tuition. Although he was not the
first Hispanic to attend SMU Law school (there
had been some night students) he was the first
"day student" to attend the school.
Upon graduation in 1964, he traveled to
NewYork courtesy of the NAACP Inc. Fund for
a two-week seminar in civil rights law. He
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004, periodical, 2004; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35092/m1/36/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.