A Woman to Know: Sylvia Mendez

My parents just wanted what was best for their children. — Sylvia Mendez

(image via National Parks Service)


When Sylvia was growing up, schools in her California hometown remained segregated. Not into "white schools" and "black schools," but into "white schools" and "Mexican schools."

When she applied for enrollment in a traditionally-white school in 1946, she was just 8 years old. But the ensuing controversy -- and a landmark federal court case, Mendez v. Westminster -- would change the country forever. An entire eight years before the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board ended school segregation nationwide, Mendez v. Westminster established that school segregation in California violated the Constitution. Later that year, Sylvia enrolled in her school.

And in 2011, after years of fighting to fulfill her parents' dreams for her, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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