Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
A strong personality who has received national attention for his various crusades, Henry González was the first Hispanic Representative from Texas, and has served in Congress longer than any other Hispanic. He was born Enrique Barbosa González in San Antonio, Texas on May 3, 1916. His parents, Leonides González Cigarroa and Genoveva Barbosa Prince de González, fled to San Antonio from the state of Durango in northern Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in 1911. Leonides González had served as mayor of the town of Mapimi, Durango in Mexico. Henry González attended public schools and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1935. He continued his education at the University of Texas and San Antonio College. In 1943 he graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was called to government service and worked as a civilian cable and radio censor for military and naval intelligence. After graduation he worked as assistant juvenile probation officer, quickly rising to chief probation officer of the Bexar County Juvenile Court. In 1947 he was hired by the Pan American Progressive Association as executive assistant. From 1947 to 1951 he helped his father run a translation service in San Antonio.
In 1953, with the support of Mexican-Americans and Anglos, González was elected to the San Antonio City Council, serving as mayor pro-tempore for part of his first term. In the city council he spoke against segregation of public facilities, and the council passed desegregation ordinances. In 1956 he was elected to the State Senate; he was subsequently reelected and served until 1961. In 1957 González, along with Senator Abraham Kazen, attracted national attention for holding the longest filibuster in the history of the Texas Legislature, which lasted thirty-six hours. They succeeded in killing eight out of ten racial segregation bills that were aimed at circumventing the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case. Among his other achievements in the Senate were a slum clearance law and the passage of a bill for the creation of a medical school. In 1958 González unsuccessfully ran for Governor of Texas; although an unlikely candidate, he wanted to offer an alternative to the race between Governor Daniel and former governor W. Lee O'Daniel.
During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy requested González's help in organizing Viva Kennedy Clubs throughout the country. González and U.S. Senator Dennis Chávez of New Mexico served as national co-chairmen.
González was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Paul J. Kilday (D-TX), who had been appointed to the Court of Military Appeals. In 1961 he was elected with over half of the votes. Subsequently he has faced little challenge in reelection bids; he has generally won with at least eighty percent of the vote and a number of times he has run unopposed. Although he has supported and initiated legislation for the welfare of Hispanics, he has never run on a Hispanic platform.
As a Representative, González quickly got attention in 1963. He received substantial publicity when he voted against additional appropriations for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, because it received more money than other committees that produced more reports and legislation.
During his first term, González was assigned to the Committee on Banking and Currency, which in 1977 became the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee, where he worked for the passage of a number of legislative proposals of the New Frontier and Great Society including the Housing Act of 1964. He worked on legislation that was eventually incorporated into the Equal Opportunities Act of 1964, and supported the Library Service Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition, Chairman Wright Patman (D-TX) appointed González as a special liaison representative on Latin-American affairs; González attended the Inter-American Development Bank Board of Directors conference in Panama in April 1964. During the 1960's he also campaigned to put an end to the bracero program, which allowed the use of foreign labor to harvest agricultural crops. He criticized the program for the deplorable conditions under which laborers worked.
In the 1970's González continued with his crusades. In 1977 he gained national attention as Chairman of the House Assassinations Committee that was established to investigate the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Animosity developed between González and the attorney who headed the probe. González quit within weeks, due to the fact that in his opinion the investigation was doomed because powerful forces in organized crime were against it. He also urged an investigation of the murder of Judge John W. Wood in San Antonio. When the indictments were handed down, Federal prosecutors thanked González for his perseverance. As a member of the House Small Business Committee in the 94th Congress, González served as Chairman of the ad hoc subcommittee on the Robinson-Patman Act, Anti-trust Legislation, and Related Matters. He played a key role in salvaging the Robinson-Patman Act, which some consider to be the "Magna Carta" of small business. During the 1970's González opposed nuclear power and introduced legislation to phase out existing nuclear facilities, and continued his work in support of public housing.
In 1981 González became the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development, where he worked on legislation to approve a program to assist families who faced foreclosure on their homes. Later he battled the Reagan administration when it proposed cuts in public housing programs.
With the leadership of González as Chairman of the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee, the committee was able to enact many pieces of legislation, including flood insurance reform, major housing initiatives, increasing the accessibility to credit to small business, and strengthening anti-money laundering laws, bank fraud, and other financial crimes. In addition, through his efforts with legislation and through hearings, he succeeded in making the Federal Reserve more publicly accountable. During his ten year Chairmanship (1971-1981) of the Banking Committee's Subcommittee on International Development Institutions, and Finance, he sponsored an amendment to a number of international banking bills. The "González amendment," as it was commonly known, protects U.S. citizens from expropriation by countries that receive loans from international development institutions to which the U.S. contributes.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Banking Committee, González had to deal with the collapse of the savings and loan industry, a crisis he had predicted throughout the 1980's. In 1991 he led a restructuring of the federal deposit insurance system. As Chairman he earned a reputation for being a fair leader who allowed equitable participation in the creation of bills.
González was once again in the national spotlight in 1992, when he requested an investigation of the Bush administration's involvement in loans to Iraq.
In addition to his legislative career González has served seven times as a House Delegate to the Mexico-United States Interparliamentary Conference, and has received numerous awards from universities, including honorary doctorates from St. Mary's University and from Our Lady of the Lake College.
When González retired from Congress in 1998, his son Charlie took over his seat, and was subsequently re-elected to the 106th Congress. Suffering from ill health and a weak heart, the elder González died on November 29, 2000.
Publications by Henry B. González:
"The Relinquishment of Co-Equality by Congress." Harvard Journal on Legislation 29 (Summer 1992): pp. 331-356.
For further reading:
Ralph Nader Congress Project. Henry B. González, Democratic Representative from Texas. Washington, D.C.: Grossman Publishers, 1972.
Rodríguez, Eugene. Henry B. Gonzalez: A Political Profile. New York: Arno Press, 1976.
"Profile of a Public Man." Nuestro 2:13 (March 1983).