RODOLFO “CORKY” GONZALES, POLITICAL ACTIVIST
One of the most vocal and charismatic leaders of the Chicano Movement, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales began his career as a prizefighter in Denver, Colorado. By 1960, however, he had become interested in politics and was appointed to co-chair the Viva Kennedy campaign in Denver. When Congress passed legislation for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964, Corky was appointed director of Denver’s War on Poverty office. Corky soon became disillusioned with the politics of the war on poverty and quit his job to found the Crusade for Justice in 1966. The Crusade had as it chief goal the creation of self-determination and community control of all aspects of Chicano life. Within a short time the Crusade had its own school, art gallery, newspaper (El Gallo),and credit bureau. On the political front, the Crusade and its members lobbied for improved educational and housing opportunities for Chicanos in Denver. In 1967, Corky gained national prominence because of the widely circulated epic poem he authored, I Am Joaquin which crystalized the sensibility of the Chicano movement of the time.
Also in 1967 Corky attended the Poor People’s March held in Washington D.C. and convened by the Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Corky made headlines when he confronted then U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and called for a redress of the discrimination suffered by Chicanos in education, housing employment opportunities. In 1968, Gonzales and some of its members were involved in a riot that broke out at West High School in Denver when students walked out to protest inferior education at the school.
In 1969, Corky convened the First National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference from March 27-31. It was during the debates of the conference that the Plan de Aztlán emerged as the blueprint by which the emergent Chicano movement would proceed; the plan called for a nationalist movement of self-determination using the term “Chicano” as it banner.
In 1970, Corky attended Chicano Moratorium March and Rally in Los Angeles. Los Angeles County Sheriffs and Los Angeles city police officers attacked the assembled crowd and in the riot that erupted Corky, along with other members of the Crusade For Justice were arrested. A meeting scheduled to take place after the day of marching, in which Chicano leaders would discuss the formation of a national political party made up of Latinos, was cancelled. Corky continued as a leader of Colorado activists and in 1972 created the Colorado chapter of the all Latino, La Raza Unida political party.
In 1972, Corky attended the National Convention of the La Raza Unida party held in El Paso Texas and lost
the national chair of the party to Jose Angel Gutiérrez. The success of the Crusade for Justice came to an end on the evening of March 17, 1973. Hearing reports that some Crusade members were armed, more than 200 Denver police officers raided the Crusade offices and gunfire ensued. A 23 year old member of the Crusade, Luis Martinez, was killed. During the course of the evening, an explosion destroyed one of the dormitory buildings of the Crusade. The violence surrounding the police attack on the Crusade dissuaded many members who soon left the organization. After 1973, the Crusade was never the effective community agency it had once been. In 1987 Corky suffered a heart arrhythmia while driving his car and was hospitalized and partially paralyzed as a result of the accident that resulted. Corky Gonzalez passed away on in Denver, Colorado on April 12, 2005.