The Uvalde Student Walkout and the Texas Rangers

By Caroline Lauber

Located west of San Antonio and east of the Mexico-United States border, the town of Uvalde, Texas is characterized by resistance, grief, and strength. As most Americans know, an eighteen year old gunman indiscriminately killed nineteen children and two teachers at Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022. This tragedy sparked feelings of lament for the lives lost, anger at the lack of action against gun violence in the United States, and reflection on Uvalde’s long history of activism. Robb Elementary, a predominantly Mexican-American school and now a scene of tragedy and mourning, was once the site of resistance and protest. And the Texas Rangers, key perpetrators of much of the border violence of the 1910s, played a role in this story as well.

            Beginning on April 14, 1970, students participated in a walkout to protest the inequality of educational resources and the dismissal of beloved Robb Elementary teacher, Josué “George” Garza. Garza, one of the only Spanish speaking teachers, provided a haven for Mexican-American students while also initiating several projects to improve school conditions. When Garza started taking graduate classes at Texas State University (then Southwest Texas State University), the principal questioned his motives, believing that Garza wanted to take over the role as principal. During the six week walkout, over 650 students refused to attend their classes in order to raise awareness of the discrimination permeating their school system.

            Discrimination against the Mexican-American community had become normalized and ingrained into the culture of Uvalde. Schools remained segregated into the 1970s, even after the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional in the case Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Most teachers only spoke English when the majority of parents spoke Spanish, which led to inadequate communication, and also sought to shut down any presence of Mexican-American culture. Students were even punished for speaking Spanish in class. School buildings and properties were ill-kept and resources were scarce. Participants of the walkout wrote a list of fourteen demands to negotiate with school board. At the top of list were appeals to end segregation and being denied access to a bilingual education. The walkout not only denounced the dismissal of George Garza, it also challenged the progression of injustices faced by the community.

Figure 1: Alfred Y. Allee Texas Ranger Museum.

            The involvement of the Texas Rangers sticks out in many participants recollections of the walkout. Ranger Captain, Alfred Y. Allee, led a group of about 25 Rangers to Uvalde to oversee the demonstration. A third generation Texas Ranger, Allee gained an infamous reputation for his involvement in suppressing striking farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley, two years beforehand, which led to a subsequent hearing in front of the United States Civil Rights Commission. His harsh reputation set a tone for the Rangers’ presence during the walkout and many students felt unsettled. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, the Rangers stood guard atop the junior high school, guns loaded and drawn.

            Elvira Perez, a senior and leader of the walkout, recalled the intense response to their actions and demands: “I remember walking across the street, and for some reason, I just looked up, and I looked up the barrel of a Texas Ranger’s rifle. They were on the roof with their rifles pointing down at us.” Other participants noted their shock at the large company of Rangers, wondering why so many showed up against a group of children. These students were not engaging in illegal or violent activity. Rather, they were exercising their right as American citizens to speak up for their rights.

            The Rangers’ looming, vigilant presence demonstrates their culture of intimidation and aggression. Did the Rangers believe that the protest would eventually turn violent or were they following orders from the state of Texas? Did they feel threatened by this act of resistance and defiance by Mexican-American students? This extreme opposition to the walkout continued throughout all six weeks of the protest. The Rangers’ presence did not deter the students from advancing their demonstration. In fact, it reinforced their confidence and determination to fight for their voices to be heard and for change to come.  

            Today, the community of Uvalde demands answers and accountability in the wake of the shooting, all the while mourning and honoring those who were killed. In addition to calls for accountability, families of the victims also organized a march in Uvalde over the summer and a rally this past weekend outside Governor Greg Abbott’s home and the State Capital in Austin. The demonstration appealed for Gov. Abbott to call a special session to address gun control and raising the minimum age of gun ownership from 18 to 21 years old. Speakers included parents and family members of the victims in addition to survivors and families of other mass shootings. While a complete ban of AR-15 weapons is the goal, raising the minimum age is a step in the right direction. Their perseverance strengthens as concrete action continues to be withheld. Just as students walked fearlessly beneath the taunting presence of the Texas Rangers during the 1970 walkout, so does the current Uvalde community appeal for justice with resolve and conviction.

            Refusing to Forget is committed to remembering and honoring the victims of violence both a century ago and today. Below are the names of the 21 individuals killed in the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24, 2022.

Check out the resources below for further reading:

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/31/1102260606/what-robb-elementary-school-has-meant-in-uvaldes-history-of-mexican-activism

https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2022/05/27/uvalde-school-shooting-mexican-americans-fought-decades-improve-school-system/9946424002/

https://voces.lib.utexas.edu/story-tags/uvalde-school-walkout

https://voces.lib.utexas.edu/collections/stories/josué-george-garza

https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/22/uvalde-school-boycott-walkout-shooting-robb-elementary/

https://www.npr.org/2022/08/26/1119465852/uvalde-parents-rally-austin-increase-age-ar-15-rifle-texas

https://abcnews.go.com/US/uvalde-victims-families-call-special-session-march-lives/story?id=88904281

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