George I. Sanchez Essay

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George I. Sanchez was a leader and mentor to leaders in the Mexican American community who came after him, but his contributions to equity issues for Mexican Americans remain little known to the general public. Sanchez’s contributions were recognized by a retrospective at the University of California School of Law at Berkeley in 1984, which recognized him as the single most influential person in the area of law in the pursuit of equity for Hispanics.

Sanchez was born in New Mexico Territory and was educated in Albuquerque and Jerome, Arizona. He received his bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of New Mexico, his master’s in educational psychology from the University of Texas, and his doctorate in educational administration from the University of California, Berkeley. His master’s thesis concerned the use of intelligence testing with Spanish-speaking students. His master’s and doctorate were funded by grants from the General Education Board (GEB), a Rockefeller foundation.

After Sanchez completed his doctorate in 1934, he returned to New Mexico, where he served as Director of Information and Statistics for the New Mexico Education Agency, a position funded by the GEB. As the president of the New Mexico Teachers Association, he was a leader in an early fight for equity in school funding for rural and urban districts. During the latter part of the 1930s, he served as a research associate for the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a fund that was noted for building more than 6,000 schools for African Americans in the South. His field research for the Rosenwald Fund led to his book Mexico: A Revolution by Education. From 1937–1938, he served as director of the Instituto Pedagogica Nacional, a normal school for secondary teachers in Venezuela.

In 1940, his book Forgotten People: A Study of New Mexicans, which resulted from his work for the Carnegie Foundation, was published; he became president-elect of the League of Latin American Citizens; and he accepted a position at the University of Texas in Austin as a full professor with tenure. During the 1940s, he wrote Spanish textbooks, taught, wrote The People: A Study of the Navajo, served for a time as a part-time consultant for the U.S. Office of Civil Defense on Latin America, and began his interest in attaining equity through the courts.

After World War II, he became interested in a California equity case, Mendez v. Westminster (1946). This inspired him to walk several school districts with a young lawyer, James De Anda, within the Colorado Common School District near Austin, Texas, and note the discrepancies between schools built for “Latins” and those built for “Anglos.” The information he gathered resulted in a lawsuit that ended in an agreed judgment. The judge ruled that the Texas State Board of Education must adopt a formal policy against the discrimination of Spanish-surname children on the basis of the surname. This policy was cited in future discrimination cases.

In the early 1950s, Sanchez worked with Carlos Cadena and Gustavo Garcia on developing the brief for the first case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning discrimination against Hispanics, Hernandez v. Texas (1954), which was decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiff two weeks before Brown v. Board of Education. These two cases gave legal precedents to attorneys fighting against discrimination.

Until he died in 1972, Sanchez was called as an expert witness in equity cases concerning Mexican Americans, especially schoolchildren. His master’s thesis, “A Study of Scores of Spanish-Speaking Children on Repeated Tests,” was the first study of its kind for many years and served as the landmark case in that area. As a result of this thesis, he often was called as an expert witness.

In 1995, the University of Texas at Austin named the College of Education the George I. Sanchez College of Education. Schools in Texas and California also have been named for him. During his lifetime, he served as a member of the editorial board of The Nation’s Schools; as a consultant to the U.S. Office of the Interior, the U.S. Office of Education on migrants, and the Navajo Tribal Council; as a member of John F. Kennedy’s Committee of Fifty on New Frontier Policy in the Americas; as a board member of the Migrant Children’s Fund; and as a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Peace Corps.


  1. Romo, R. (1986). George I. Sanchez and the civil rights movement: 1940–1960. La Raza Law Journal, 1(3), 342–362.
  2. Sanchez, G. I. (1934). Bilingualism and mental measures: A word of caution. Journal of Applied Psychology, 18, 765–772.
  3. Sanchez, G. I. (1936). Mexico: A revolution by education. New York: Viking.
  4. Sanchez, G. I. (1940). Forgotten people: A study of New
  5. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Sanchez, G. I. (1948). The people: A study of the Navajo. Washington, DC: U.S. Indian Service.
  6. San Miguel, G. (1987). Let all of them take heed: Mexican Americans and the campaign for educational equality in Texas, 1910–1981. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  7. Tevis, M. M. (2007). G. I. Sanchez. In Encyclopedia of activism and social justice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  8. Wiley, T. (1965). Politics and Purse Strings in New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

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