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Westminster Breaks Ground On Park Commemorating Mendez Case That Ended School Segregation In California

WESTMINSTER (CBSLA) — A new park in Westminster will commemorate Mendez vs. Westminster School District, a landmark court case that helped paved the way for desegregation in California's public schools.

mendez park mockup
(credit: City of Westminster)

The city of Westminster and the Orange County Department of Education held a virtual groundbreaking on the Mendez Tribute Monument Park, which will be at Westminster Boulevard and Olive Street.

"The case of Mendez vs. Westminster impacted us all. Yet most residents have never heard about it," Westminster City Councilman Sergio Contreras said in the virtual groundbreaking video. "This historic court decision paved the way for later rulings that would end school segregation once and for all in our nation. By building these statues and park, we hope to further solidify Westminster's civil rights history in the minds of residents and visitors alike."

In 1946, 9-year-old Sylvia Mendez was turned away from a school that was "whites only." Her father, Gonzalo Mendez, and four others filed a class-action lawsuit against four Los Angeles-area school districts, and won the case that ruled the segregation of Mexican and Mexican-American students, by relegating them to "Mexican schools," was unconstitutional.

The case broke ground seven years before the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case. Thurgood Marshall, the U.S. Supreme Court's first African-American justice, represented Sylvia Mendez in the case before being appointed to the high court.

USA - Politics - President Obama Awards Medal of Freedom
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Freedom to civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Mendez was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her civil rights work in 2011. Her story and court case was highlighted with a Google doodle in September.

The park will have interpretative panels and interactive stations to help visitors learn about the historic case.

City officials hope construction on the park will be completed by next spring.

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