History and historical background of the 1931 court case on desegregation and the first successful challenge on segregation in the nation
By John Valdez / Lemon Grove Oral History Project
In 1930, a small rural community in the county of San Diego, California, called Lemon Grove was home to a hundred or more Mexican-American families. These families were mostly situated on Olive and North Avenue Streets near the central avenue called Broadway. The only elementary school was called Golden Avenue School and it’s there that this story begins.
The Lemon Grove School Board members voted to build a separate school on Olive Street for the 75 Mexican-American students who were attending the Golden Avenue School. As the Spanish speaking members of this quiet community became aware of the board’s decision to remodel an existing barn-like structure for all the Spanish speaking students, thereby creating a separate school for them, the families of these children dissented. They formed a parent organization to challenge the school board’s decision which led to the first successful desegregation ruling in the nation.
Judge Claude Chambers ruled that the separation of the Mexican-American students was unconstitutional, as these students were from the Caucasian race and could not be legally segregated. The dramatic and significant court case occurred in March 1931, where the working class members of the Mexican-American community began a boycott of the school and then filed a suit against the school board.
They were successfully and legally represented by attorney Fred C. Noon. The case, which has become the first landmark ruling against desegregation in the nation is called Roberto Alvarez vs. Board of Trustees of Lemon Grove School District. It would become the nation’s first successful desegregation court case in the nation.
John E. Valdez the director was born on Olive Street in Lemon Grove the heart of the Mexican colonia. He attended Lemon Grove Elementary School, Lemon Grove Junior High and Helix High School. He studied at St. Francis College Minor Seminary in El Cajon and then Immaculate Heart Major Seminary at the College for Men at the University of San Diego.
Valdez received a BA in Philosophy and History and then a teaching credential in secondary education from the College of Men at the University of San Diego. He transferred to the University of California at San Diego, La Jolla and earned an Master’s Equivalency in Comparative Literature, a Master’s Degree in Language and Policy Studies from San Diego State University and a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of San Diego.
Valdez is also a Fellow from the Oxford Roundtable, Oxford England. He is a Professor Emeritus from Palomar College in the field of Chicano Studies, and taught for 43 years in the areas of: Chicano History, The Chicano in the United States Political System and Chicano Literature. He also served as Chair of the Multicultural Studies Department for 30 years and was a MEChA Advisor for the student organization for the entire period of his career.
Valdez is most proud of his family — his son Joaquin, daughter Micaela, daughter- in- law Jessica, his 6-year-old grandson Julian, and 4-year-old granddaughter Jordin.