December 9, 2019
1911, Antonio Gomez, a fourteen-year-old Mexican-American boy, was walking home carving pieces of wooden shingles, when suddenly a saloon owner shoved him to the street. Gomez was scolded by the saloon owner for littering on the sidewalk shouting, “the sidewalk is no wastebasket.” A group of men that was at the saloon cheered on the owner and cursed at Gomez. As the boy gathered his shingles and tried to leave, a man by the name of Charles Zieschang snatched the wooden shingles from the boy’s hand and told the owner he could, “make the damn little skunk quit whittling.” Zieschang whipped Antonio Gomez with his own wooden shingles while other men watched and ridiculed the boy. Out of self-defense Antonio Gomez stabbed Zieschang with the pocket knife he was using to carve the wooden shingles. Zieschang died from blood loss in twenty minutes.1
Mexican-Americans were somewhat immune to the racist Jim Crow policies of the south that made discrimination against black Americans legal. This was due to the fact that Mexicans were “white by law” since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. So, the Juan Crow laws emerged as a way to legally discriminate against Mexican Americans. Through Juan Crow prejudices, Texas passed English-only laws that led to future segregation of Mexican-Americans in school systems. Anglos pushed for segregation of Mexican-Americans in school because they believed having their children learn alongside Mexican-American children would hinder them. Segregationists also believed that it was safer for their white children because they believed Mexican-Americans reached puberty earlier. Unsurprisingly the anti-Mexican efforts were blind-sided by authorities across the state giving more power to Juan crow laws that essentially justified discrimination and mistreatment of Mexican-Americans.2
Antonio Gomez was taken into custody almost immediately by constable McCoy and taken into the town jail of Thorndale, Texas. Soon after his arrest, another version of the altercation went around. Some were claiming that Gomez was the attacker who waited for Zieschang to come out of the saloon after having snatched his wooden shingle and peacefully retreating to the saloon. The people were so eager to bring their own “justice” that they were willing to act as witnesses without having seen anything. Although history has yet to prove which story is the most accurate, the only part that remains constant is the events that led up to his death. Gomez became an instant target for lynching because the citizens knew he was too young for capital punishment in the state of Texas, but they were willing to take matters into their own hands. It was reported that a mob of more than a hundred people waited for justice outside the jail. Constable McCoy who placed Gomez in jail tried to transfer him to another jail out of fear that the boy would be lynched by the people. The constable knew that the small jail could keep Antonio Gomez in, but he wasn’t sure that it could keep an angry mob out. Gomez was led through the back of the jail with a chain around his neck and straight to a house. McCoy went to look for reliable transportation to another jail while Gomez was kept in a safe place, or so he thought. Somehow the angry mob learned the location of Antonio Gomez and managed to steal him from authorities.3
Racism had grown its roots very deep and brutally here in the state of Texas. Racism in Texas stems back not only to slavery and the prejudice towards black people, but to native Americans as well. Mexicans were sometimes saved by the law which would recognize a Mexican person as “white” as long as their skin permitted it. If you were not of fair skin, then you risked being persecuted. Most Anglo-Americans had an “us versus them” mentality when it came to Mexican-Americans. This was because many Anglo-Americans picked up on American nationalism and nativism going against Mexican-Americans who were wrongly stereotyped. Mexican-Americans were usually seen as inferior, violent, and even anti-American. Racism against Mexican-Americans was like a double-edged sword. Mexican-Americans had to deal with Anglo-Americans who did not accept them and did not think they were American enough. Simultaneously, Mexican-Americans dealt with Mexicans who also thought less of Mexican-Americans, often times looking at them as traitors. Racism in the state of Texas was not only on the mere surface, but it had also been implemented systematically, from the school systems to the housing system and even the labor systems. This is because our country’s story is based on a consensus history, which means that our history is based on points of view that seeks to paint an exciting picture of our history, and downplaying the tragedies that occurred.4
Antonio Gomez was captured by an angry mob and was dragged by a horseman who managed to grab the chain that was around Gomez’s neck. Antonio Gomez’s body was found lifeless hanging from a telegraph pole next to a ladder. Only three hours had passed since the death of the man that Gomez was charged for “murdering.” The body of the child was found bruised up and beaten horribly with a chain around his neck. After beating the boy and dragging him, the men mercilessly suspended his body from the pole. Before the men managed to hang his body, they had a failed attempt where they dropped his body and kicked his head. The constable was too late when he arrived at the scene.5
How common were these anti-Mexican lynching’s? Although hateful crimes against Mexicans were common, it was not so common to be recorded for history. There are records to show that from 1848 to 1928 at least 597 deaths of Mexicans in Texas were due to mob violence or lynchings. These attacks directed towards Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were not only done by other citizens, but they were also planned systematically by Texas Rangers. Another example of brutal deaths by mob violence is the lynching and burning of Antonio Rodriguez. These acts of terror were very common in Texas, especially towards ethnic groups such as African Americans, Mexicans, and even native Americans even earlier.6
It is important to know the stories of such victims of racism and mob violence like that of Antonio Gomez or even of Jesse Washington. Although these stories are not the most appealing, it is important to recognize these people and their stories because it is our history whether we like it or not. It is important for all people to know the truth. Stories like these are even relevant today. We could look at recent laws such as SB4 that encouraged racism among law enforcement, or even the stereotypes that current president Trump has promoted. The story of Antonio Gomez shows just how far and systematic racism has been in our state of Texas or even in our country. It is important to know the entire truth of history, not just one point of view. Why haven’t you heard of Antonio Gomez? Why was Mexican-American studies just recently added to the Texas public school curriculum in 2014, and only as an elective? Why isn’t the history of Mexican people in our textbooks when it is a vital part of who we are and where we come from, especially here in Texas?
Juan Crow Laws
I am a History and Sociology double major here at St. Mary’s University. My research interests consist of Mexican-American history and other untold stories of marginalized groups. Through my writing and research, I hope to restore some of the voices and experiences of marginalized groups that have been shut down throughout history. One day I would like to give back to students and teach as a professor in Mexican-American studies or U.S. Latino History at a university.Author Portfolio Page
I had no idea this was a part of American history. They do not teach that Mexicans were “white by law” since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 in schools. Or anything about the Juan Crow laws that emerged as a way to legally discriminate against Mexican Americans. I had only learned about the injustice done to the African American demographic around that time period.