By Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
The late Hispanic civil rights lawyer Adelfa Callejo was a relentless opponent of prejudice and small mindedness. Her life was devoted to improving social conditions for minorities, particularly Hispanic Americans. Ms. Callejo was an outspoken advocate for minority education; an entire generation of young people has been inspired to pursue higher education because of her urging, some even decided to emulate her academic path and chose to become lawyers.
Born into an acutely segregated community in South Texas, she witnessed biased social norms, including one that required Hispanics to drink from horse troughs rather than separate water fountains that were designated for white and black citizens.
She learned her sense of activism while a small girl. At the age of nine she stood at her father’s side, performing the role of translator, as he protested the treatment of Hispanic children in the public school system.
When he was not agitating, Callejo’s father picked cotton and labored as a mine worker. Her mother washed and ironed clothing for other families to help make ends me. Mrs. Callejo’s relationship with Dallas began in 1939 when her family, searching for better opportunity, relocated here.
Callejo worked in a law office and later received her undergraduate and law degrees from Southern Methodist University, becoming the first Hispanic woman to graduate from the Dallas based institution.
Willingly embracing a life of activism, Callejo worked with others in the Dallas civil rights community to create single-member city council districts. That led to racial minorities having a greater opportunity of being elected to the public office.
In 1973 when a 12 year-old Hispanic youth was killed while sitting in a Dallas police car, Callejo helped to lead protests demanding justice in the case, and the arrest of the police officer that was accused of shooting the unharmed youth.
Over the years she continued to fight for bi-lingual education in Dallas public schools, and spoke out against restrictive immigration policies and practices. She filed a lawsuit against immigration policies which she said were destroying Hispanic families, separating children from their parents.
Even when she fell into falling health, she continued to battle against injustice and urged young people to pursue education, which she described as a pathway to the middle class. Now that her voice is silent, Dallas will miss her greatly. Yet, we were abundantly blessed during the many years that she lived and worked amongst us.