Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 16, Number 01, Spring, 2004 Page: 36
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returned to Dallas and opened his own practice
as one of the few practicing Mexican-American
attorneys and, along with C. B. Bunkley, was one
of only two attorneys specializing in civil rights
in Dallas. "I used to say that whites might not
like sitting next to me on the bus, but they will
anyway," he recalled.
One of his first cases involved a Hispanic
elementary school assistant principal who wanted
to transfer to a "white" school but was
denied. W T. White, then superintendent of
schools, would not allow the school's transfer
policy to be seen "by just
Hernandez sent a white
employee to DISD headquarters
to obtain a copy of the policy
handbook. "He was a cleancut,
Anglo guy, and the DISD
handed him a copy without any
questions," Hernandez said.
With evidence in hand that no
policy barring the transfer was
on the books, Hernandez won
Hernandez's reputation as a
leader in the civil rights movement
in Dallas rose rapidly in
the 1960s as he took on case
Charter Association, a powerful group of white
business leaders who controlled city politics,
when he ran for a seat on the City Council.
Alarmed at this rising threat to the establishment,
the CCA hand-picked Anita Martinez, the
wife of El Fenix Restaurant owner Alfred
Martinez, as its candidate. Martinez won,
becoming the first Hispanic to serve on the
Council. Out of the election was formed a
group formally known as the Commission on
Mexican-American Affairs. In addition to
Hernandez, its members included Hispanic leaders
such as Trinidad "Trini" Garza, who would
Hernandez's reputation as
a leader in the civil rights
movement in Dallas rose rapidly
in the 1960s as he took on
case after case representing
minorities with little voice or
power. "I just don't put up with
racism period," he stated.
after case representing minorities with little
voice or power. "I just don't put up with racism
period," he stated.
In 1966, Hernandez, representing a client in
a murder trial, became dissatisfied with the
exclusion of blacks and Hispanics from the
Dallas County grand jury, and subpoenaed sixty
prominent Dallas citizens to testify whether they
had ever seen a minority grand juror. Many
white witnesses, including an elderly minister,
were appalled that Hernandez would use them
to challenge the status quo.Although Hernandez
failed to have the murder indictment dismissed,
his parade of witnesses prompted some judges
immediately to seek out minority grand jurors.
In 1969 Hernandez was one of the first
Hispanic leaders to challenge the Citizens
become the first Hispanic to
serve on the Dallas Independent
School District board; Pedro
Aguirre, an architect and later
the second Hispanic elected to
the Dallas City Council; and
Dr. Onesimo Hernandez, a
prominent Dallas surgeon.
Members eventually ignored
their official name and
embraced the nickname "The
Dirty Dozen," which was first
used by a West Dallas activist
who denounced them as elitist.
The "Dirty Dozen" avoid
ed public political endorsements and any effort
to cultivate a constituency. The membership
ebbed and flowed, depending on who decided
to attend. Issues included working for equal educational
facilities and bilingual education;
achieving greater representation in local government;
ensuring that the criminal justice system
stayed unbiased, in everything from police to
court actions; and improving city services in
Despite his defeat in the council race,
Hernandez continued to lead the cause for civil
rights for Mexican-Americans. He served as the
president of the League for Educational
Advancement (LEAD) in Dallas, which was
instrumental in the desegregation of the DISD
school board, and was a member of the Tri
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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/m1/38/: accessed June 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.