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DOCUMENTARY EXAMINES FIRST SCHOOL-SEGREGATION RULING Before Brown v. Board of Education, there was Mendez v. Westminster. The little-known Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling from 1947 held that the school segregation of Mexican-American children in the Southwest was unconstitutional. But it may not stay unknown for long. Documentary filmmaker Sandra Robbie presented her film, “Mendez v. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos Los Ninos,” on the historic ruling on May 8 at the same San Francisco courthouse where attorneys argued the case on appeal 60 years ago. Bingham McCutchen and California La Raza Lawyers hosted the film screening, along with a discussion with the daughter of the lead plaintiff, Sylvia Mendez, who testified at the trial in 1945. The Mendez case, which originated in four Orange County school districts, was the first time a court decided that “separate is never equal,” according to Christopher Arriola, a member of the California La Raza Lawyers who organized the event. It was also the first time attorneys used the negative socialization theory to prove that separate schools violated the 14th Amendment. Plaintiffs’ attorney David Marcus had brought in expert witnesses and Mexican American children to show that segregation was harmful to the children. Thurgood Marshall, who would later win the Brown case, filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the plaintiffs on behalf of the NAACP. A month after the appellate ruling, then-Gov. Earl Warren overturned state legislation that had permitted the segregation of Asian-Americans and Native Americans in California. Now, Robbie and Mendez are working on getting the case into the state curriculum. Last month, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new 41-cent stamp commemorating the ruling.

Millie Lapidario

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