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Stories from the Archives: The Personal Papers of Dr. Hector P. Garcia
03 / 13 / 17 | By: Laura Starr
In 1949, a single act of discrimination galvanized the Mexican-American civil rights movement. The widow of an American serviceman killed in action was denied use of a chapel for funeral services because her husband, Felix Z. Longoria, was Hispanic. First-hand accounts of the outcry that followed and Mr. Longoria’s eventual burial at Arlington National Cemetery are saved within the personal papers of Dr. Hector P. Garcia – prominent champion of civil rights for Mexican-Americans and veterans in the mid- to late-20th century.
Dr. Garcia carefully documented and preserved a gold mine of information, including a copy of the letter he wrote to then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson describing the incident and the telegram from Johnson indicating that the Senator had arranged for Private Longoria to be buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors. Dr. Garcia’s passion for supporting Private Longoria’s family and his fellow veterans is exemplified through his collection of flyers organizing protests, fundraising letters, and—tellingly—a picture taken of Dr. Garcia years later, standing next to Private Longoria’s grave.
The Garcia Collection provides us with a glimpse of history that goes beyond facts and dates to reveal the personalities and motivations behind the story. In addition to the Longoria incident, the collection includes records on the American G.I. Forum (which Dr. Garcia founded), the struggles over the Texas poll tax, and other major issues and events faced by Dr. Garcia during his remarkable career. This primary resource material testifies to the struggles and triumphs of the Mexican-American community, and much of it is not available anywhere else.
How can you find historical insights in the collection if you don’t know what it contains – or even that it exists at all? In 1989, Dr. Garcia donated roughly 600 linear feet of correspondence, photographs, and scrapbooks, albums of newspaper clippings, audiovisual recordings, and realia.
His home town university, Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC), was thrilled to receive the collection and considers it a centerpiece of its Special Collections Department’s manuscript holdings. But organizing so much material can take a long time and the University decided to speed up the process so that the collection could be accessed, used, and preserved as quickly as possible.
History Associates is now working with TAMU-CC to help. The ultimate goal is to process the entire collection and digitize a majority of the material so it can be accessed online. Given the size of the collection, we’re using a mix of “More Product, Less Process” methods and full-level processing of the collection. This is due to the fact that some parts of the collection have already been adequately processed and other parts are in need of some degree of arrangement, rehousing, and processing. This diverse, tailored approach strikes a balance between properly arranging the material and providing researchers with a good sense of what is in the collection.
At the same time, History Associates has selectively digitized parts of the collection and launched a new Omeka online exhibit last December (http://tamuccgarcia.omeka.net/). This site is helping raise awareness of the collection through online searches and provides a framework for adding more content as additional material is digitized.
The entire project is slated to be completed in late 2017 and we will share more of our “behind the scenes” discoveries and experiences as we work through the collection. Stay tuned!