Documentary latest effort to highlight Gus Garcia’s legacy of civil rights

Film focuses on Garcia’s life, more than his untimely death

An outspoken lawyer and civil rights pioneer in the 50s, Gustavo "Gus" Garcia, is now the focus of a new documentary premiering Wednesday night in San Antonio. This is where he died at the age of 48. As KSAT's Jessie Degollado explains, producers say "Remembering Gus Garcia" is more about his legacy than about how and where he died.

SAN ANTONIO – The new documentary, “Remembering Gus Garcia,” was born out of frustration with how the civil rights pioneer is thought of, if at all, all these years later.

Gustavo “Gus” Garcia is best known for his role in winning the 1954 landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court, showing juries were systematically excluding Mexican-Americans from jury service.

The high court agreed they were being denied equal protection under the law as guaranteed in the 14th Amendment.

The decision then led to school desegregation and other civil rights victories for Mexican-Americans.

Placido Salazar, the film’s co-producer, said as a result, “Whenever he walked into a restaurant, the people there would stand up and applaud him.”

Given his historic impact on Mexican-American civil rights, Salazar and filmmaker Efrain Gutierrez said they’d had enough of hearing how Garcia had died a penniless alcoholic with no friends on a bus bench in San Antonio.

“That’s far from the truth,” he said. “That’s one thing that we tried to show in the documentary, a little more insight into how Gus really was.”

Salazar said for one, they interviewed Richard Acevedo, a noted San Antonio attorney before his death. Acevedo was the 15-year-old boy who was with Garcia when he died.

In the documentary, Acevedo describes how his uncle was a vendor at the old Farmer’s Market who showed compassion for the man he’d known and respected by always having a cot there for him to sleep.

Acevedo said after his uncle asked him to check on Garcia, he realized he was dying.

After his uncle realized Garcia had died, Acevedo said, “Electricity filled the air.”

He said everyone around them knew “something big had happened.”

Momentous though it was, Garcia and Salazar said his untimely death at 48, ten years after Garcia’s landmark victory before the nation’s highest court, should not overshadow what he accomplished.

“We have somebody that fought for civil rights that people have forgotten about,” Gutierrez said.

A free screening of “Remembering Gus Garcia” Wednesday evening, marking what would have been his 107th birthday, will be followed by additional showings here and statewide to help raise funds for a statue honoring Garcia. Gutierrez said they hope the statue would be erected in Market Square where Garcia died.

Salazar said they’ll also ask that Garcia be considered for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He said, “If we don’t, who will?”

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.