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Henry B. Gonzalez - San Antonio Congressman

Gonzalez was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a 1961 special election to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Paul J. Kilday. With his election, he became the first Mexican American from Texas to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Subsequently, for the next thirty-seven years, he faced few challenges in reelection bids. The few times he was challenged, he generally won with at least 80 percent of the vote. Although he wished to serve on the Armed Services Committee, Gonzalez was instead assigned to the Committee on Banking and Currency, where he worked in cooperation with another Texan, Wright Patman, to uncover hidden agendas and conflicts of interest buried within bills. He also continued his campaign for the people, introducing legislation unrelated to the Banking Committee, including an anti poll-tax bill (a tax paid for citizens to register to vote).

Photograph: Henry B. Gonzalez and President Johnson, 1965. Gonzalez (Henry B.) Papers, CAH; E-HBG-0010.
Henry B. Gonzalez and President Johnson, 1965. Gonzalez (Henry B.) Papers, CAH; E-HBG-0010.

In 1963 Gonzalez received substantial publicity when he voted against additional appropriations for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, because it received more money than other committees that produced more reports and legislation.

Gonzalez became known as a person of integrity, a hard worker, somewhat of a loner, but overall outgoing with a quick wit and, at times, a quick temper. During his service on the Banking Committee, Gonzalez worked for the passage of a number of legislative proposals of the New Frontier and Great Society, including the Housing Act of 1964. He worked on legislation that was eventually incorporated into the Equal Opportunities Act of 1964. He supported the Library Service Act of 1964. Gonzalez was one of only a handful of Texas Congressmen to vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During the 1960s he successfully campaigned to put an end to the bracero program. The program allowed the use of foreign labor to harvest agricultural crops. Gonzalez helped expose the deplorable conditions and human rights abuses under which laborers worked as part of the bracero program.


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