A lawyer for a landmark Texas desegregation case in the 1970s, Gabriel Gutierrez Jr. made contributions that brought important changes for Latinos’ access to public education.
Gutierrez was born Jan. 10, 1938, in Austin, Texas. His mother, “Sally” Perales Gutierrez, worked as a custodian for the Austin Independent School District while his father, Gabriel, worked multiple jobs.
Gutierrez dropped out of high school at 17 to support his girlfriend, Connie Villarreal, and their newborn son. He earned his GED diploma while serving in the Army for nearly four years, got a bachelor of business administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 1964, and received his law degree in 1967. He traversed his educational trajectory while helping his family and working 40 hours weeks at the post office.
In 1970, Gutierrez opened a private practice with a focus on criminal law. Shortly afterward, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought him in as local counsel for The United States v. Texas, a case opened in 1970 that pushed for the desegregation of Texas schools.
Brown v. Board of Education had mandated the desegregation of schools, but many Texas school districts used language barriers as a means for segregation. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that Latinos were discriminated against and ordered the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to integrate them into traditionally white and black schools.
The case continued on appeals for years, and Gutierrez stopped working with it in 1983.
While many students were moved to different schools in the ‘80s, Gutierrez said that many schools still face segregation by neighborhood and class.
Gutierrez married Connie in 1974 and they have six children. He now runs a private practice in Austin.