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Documentary on Landmark Civil Rights Case Premiers Tonight on PBS

PBS tonight will premier a documentary, “A Class Apart,” that sheds light on a landmark Mexican-American civil rights case handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 1954 – two weeks before the watershed Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

In the ruling for Hernandez v. the State of Texas, the justices unanimously gave Mexican-Americans status as a protected class under the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause. Texas had argued that Mexican-Americans, excluded from juries in Jackson County for a quarter-century, were not discriminated against because they were considered White – and, thus, were represented in the all-White juries.

Carlos Sandoval, a director for the one-hour documentary, earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. But he never heard of the case until he read about it when The New York Times wrote an editorial about the 50th anniversary of the case.

“I was surprised by this case that involved Latinos – a landmark case – and I knew nothing about it,” says Sandoval, who then attended a November 2004 conference on the case organized by University of Houston Professor Michael Olivas “to see if there was enough of a story there for a documentary.”

There was.

“A Class Apart” premieres at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central tonight on PBS stations.

Brown swamped that case even though (Hernandez) was decided before,” says Olivas, who authored “Colored Men and Hombres Aquí: Hernandez v. Texas and the Rise of Mexican American Lawyering” and is also interviewed in the film. But he says Hernandez, in one respect, went further than Brown in its almost instantaneous results: “Hernandez immediately desegregated juries in Texas.”

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