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Dennis Chavez: 1888-1962: Legislator Biography

Self-educated At Local Library, Earned Law Degree, Wielded Power, Influence In Senate

Dennis Chavez: 1888-1962: Legislator.

As the first native-born Hispanic to serve in the U.S. Senate, Dennis Chavez burned with a desire to provide minorities with equal protection under the law. Long before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, and years before Martin Luther King, Jr., had his dream, Dennis Chavez, the gentle liberal, was demanding equality for all. As early as 1944, Chavez sponsored congressional legislation to eliminate racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination in the workplace. While his bill ultimately failed, his work was a harbinger of the civil rights movement to come, and led to the eventual passage of employee protection guarantees enacted in the 1960s. Born into a poor family and receiving no formal early education, Chavez fought his way up through the political hierarchy and enjoyed 31 successful years in Congress. At the time of his death, he was Washington's fourth most powerful senator, and for many years he was the highest-ranking Hispanic in federal government. Former President Lyndon Johnson paid tribute to Chavez's work on behalf of minorities during memorial services for Chavez following his death in 1962. "He was a man who recognized that there must be champions for the least among us," Johnson said, according to the New York Times.

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