In 1930 in Salvatierra v. Del Rio Independent School District, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed suit in a Texas district court on behalf of the parents of Mexican American children attending public school in Del Rio, Texas. The school district sold a municipal bond to allow the district to add some rooms and an auditorium to an elementary school attended only by Mexican American children in grades one through three. The Mexican American parents believed that the district’s action made it clear that their children in those grades would be permanently segregated. Representing the parents, LULAC’s attorneys did not argue about the differences in the facilities for Anglo and Mexican American students. Instead, they argued that the segregation itself was illegal. At the time, Texas law required “separate but equal” schools for Anglos and African Americans but not for Mexican Americans. The superintendent of the Del Rio Independent School District testified that the separate school for these Mexican American children was for their benefit because of their poor attendance records and poor English language skills. The superintendent thus asserted that the motive was not “segregation by reason of race or color.” District Court Judge Joseph Jones ruled that the Mexican American children were entitled to go to school with the Anglo children. The case was then appealed to the Texas Court of Civil Appeals which overturned Judge Jones’ ruling. The Court of Civil Appeals held that public schools could not segregate Mexican American children because of their ethnicity but that it was the duty of school personnel to “classify and group the pupils so as to bring to each one the greatest benefits according to his or her individual needs and aptitudes.” In other words, the Del Rio ISD was allowed to continue segregating these Mexican American children so long as it was not being done for reasons of race or color. Salvatierra asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Court of Civil Appeals’ judgment, but the Court declined to do so.
In 1946, a case similar to the Salvatierra case was heard and decided in the federal courts of California. In Mendez v. Westminster, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that segregating Mexican American children in the public schools violated not only California law but also the equal protection of the law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1947 in Westminster v. Mendez upheld the judgment of the lower court but only on the basis that the segregation violated California law.
According to some sources, in Texas in the 1940s, separate public schools for some Mexican American students were maintained in 122 school districts in 59 Texas counties. (See Jorge Rangel and Carlos Alcala, “Project Report: De Jure Segregation of Chicanos in Texas Schools,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 7, March, 1972, 314.) The outcome of the Mendez case in California prompted Mexican American civil rights activists in Texas, including LULAC leaders, Mexican American attorney Gus Garcia, and University of Texas Professor George Sanchez, to prepare the first school segregation case in Texas since the 1930 Salvatierra case. In 1948, with the support of LULAC and the legal assistance of Gus Garcia, Minerva Delgado and 20 other parents of Mexican American children filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas challenging the segregation of their children in five Texas public school districts. Thus began the case of Delgado, et. al. v. Bastrop Independent School District, et. al. In their complaint for the Mexican American parents, the attorneys argued that the school districts had “prohibited, barred, and excluded” Mexican American children from attending public school with “other white school children” in violation of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.