John J. Herrera, an attorney who fought long and hard for the civil rights of Mexican Americans, was born in Cravens, Louisiana, in 1910 to Antonia Jiménez and Juan José Herrera. While best known for helping to win one landmark case that declared school segregation of Hispanics illegal and an equally ground-breaking case which ruled the systematic exclusion of Hispanics from juries to be unconstitutional, John J. Herrera – who worked as a taxi driver to support himself and his family during his time in law school – also made transportation a central theme of his career.
Herrera established firm roots in Texas early on in life, and his focus on transportation needs was made clear in his strong and advocacy of improved public transit options and access within the Lone Star State. In another key example of his engagement in transportation-oriented issues, Herrera became deeply involved during World War II in efforts on behalf of Mexican American workers in the shipbuilding industry in Texas. Herrera combated the discriminatory treatment of those workers and sought to secure better employment and training opportunities for them.
In an August 1942 letter to the personnel superintendent at the Houston-based Brown Shipyard, Herrera highlighted the discriminatory practices that had been brought to his attention. He wrote, “[It] is unbelievable to me that members of my own racial extraction, who fought as Americans at Pearl Harbor, Luzon, and Bataan could treated so unfairly on the home front.”
Herrera’s efforts helped bring about fairer treatment and better-paying jobs for Mexican Americans working in the Houston-area shipyards. During the war, Herrera was likewise successful in having newly built ships named in honor of various Latin American heroes. The Houston Post newspaper recalled more than three decades later, “His efforts paid off in 1943 when the Benito Juarez, the Miguel Hidalgo, Jose Bolivar, and Simon Bonifacio were launched.” Herrera died in Houston in 1986 at the age of 76.
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