EVENT PROFILE – 1968 HIGH SCHOOL WALK-OUTS

1968 EAST LOS ANGELES HIGH SCHOOL WALK-OUTS

By the mid-1960s, many Mexican American students were aware of social injustice and discrimination experienced by students in the Los Angeles Unified School System. In 1967, David Sanchez, a teenage social activist, created an organization known as Young Citizens for Community Action (YCCA) in hopes of addressing issues of discrimination.

It succeeded in helping elect Julian Nava as the first Mexican American to the Los Angeles School Board. Dissatisfied with the effectiveness of the YCCA, Sanchez morphed the organization into a more militant group known as the Brown Berets whose motto of “direct action” evidenced a more militant approach to social change.

Meanwhile, students from the four predominantly Mexican American highs schools of Garfield, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Wilson, began to discuss inequities in education afforded Mexican Americans at the annual Camp Hess Kramer summer retreat for Mexican American youth.

It was there that students determined that to bring about social change in the education of Mexican Americans in Los Angles more militant actions would be required. Aware that the city schools received a daily stipend for each student attending school, the savvy student activists devised a way to hit the school system in the pocket book.

The activists included students from all four schools including Paula Crisostomo, Margarita Cuaron, Harry Gamboa, Freddy Resendez, Carlos Callejo, Robert Rodriguez, Bobby Verdugo, Jr. The plan was to stage a massive walk-out from the four schools on the same day and thereby cost the school system thousands of dollars in unearned stipends, referred to as ADA, fpr “average daily attendance.” Although the plan was to be a coordinated walk-out from all four schools, on March 1, 1968 several hundred students at Wilson high school jumped the gun and stormed out of school to protest the canceling of a school play.

The following Monday, hundreds of students from Garfield, Roosevelt and Lincoln high schools ran through the hallways shouting “Blow out! Blow Out!” the student term for walking out of school. The massive display of civil disobedience involved dozens of arrests and beatings by Los Angeles police officers. Members of University organizations such as United Mexican American Students (UMAS) and members of the militant Brown Berets aided in the student walk-outs. By the end of the week, more than 15,000 students had walkout out of classrooms throughout the city in solidarity with the demands of the striking students.

As concerned parents and teachers joined the students, they held community meetings and formed an ad hoc Educational Issues Coordinating Committee, the students themselves articulated proposals for reform in Eastside education (SEE DOCUMENTS: 1968 HIGH SCHOOL WALK OUT WALK-OUT DEMANDS).

The East Los Angeles high school walk-outs, which resulted in massive changes in the education given to Mexican American youth in Los Angeles, inspired similar acts of civil disobedience in Crystal City, Texas ; Denver, Colorado; San Jose, California and other cities of the southwest.