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Héctor Pérez García: 1914-1996: Physician, Civil Rights Advocate

Remembered As A Leader Among Leaders

In 1967 Johnson appointed García as an alternate ambassador to the United Nations, where he gave the first speech by an American before the United Nations in a language other than English. He also served on the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity. In 1968 he was the first Hispanic appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In 1972 he became a member of the Texas Advisory Committee on Civil Rights. After entering office in 1977, Jimmy Carter asked García to serve as a member of the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission for the Western Fifth Circuit Panel. The following year Carter invited García to participate in a high level briefing on the President's Tax and Economic Program. García traveled to Washington again in 1980 on Carter's request to attend high level briefings on Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In 1984 García was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive in the United States. García was especially proud to receive the honor from Ronald Reagan, a Republican, proving that García's lifelong efforts crossed racial and political boundaries.

García continued his work to provide "first-class" rights for the Hispanic population. In 1987 he fought against an effort to declare English the official language of the United States. The following year he traveled to the colonias, inhabited by poverty-stricken workers along the U.S. and Mexican borders, to lobby for improved medical and sanitary services. Although he never received the national recognition awarded to Martin Luther King, García holds legendary status in South Texas.

By the 1990s García's health was fading. He had suffered a heart attack in 1980. He underwent open heart surgery shortly after the attack and again in 1985. During the late 1980s doctors discovered cancer and removed half of his stomach. In his later days, he spent a lot of time among his friends playing dominos, his favorite game at which he considered himself unmatched. He died at Memorial Medical Center in Corpus Christi on July 26, 1996, of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. The Corpus Christi Caller Times eulogized him, stating, "What this community owes Dr. Hector goes beyond his years of service as a physician or his role as a civil rights leader. He, perhaps more than any one single person, helped this community travel through a difficult period in its history, a time when ethnic and racial feelings were at a flashpoint. He did this by his appeal to higher ideals and his allegiance to the bedrock ideals of this country: fairness, equity, and patriotism. His was a remarkable life."



Lamar, Howard R., ed. The New Encyclopedia of the American West. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

Meier, Matt. Notable Latino Americans. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.


Corpus Christi Caller Times, August 11, 1996; January 22, 2002.

New York Times, July 29, 1996.


Handbook of Texas Online, www.tsha.utexas. edu/handbook/online (June 10, 2003).

"Hector P. García: A Texas Legend," University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, http://www.sga.utmb.edu/ulams/drGarcía (June 10, 2003).

Justice for My People, www.justiceformypeople.org (June 10, 2003).


Additional information for this profile was obtained from transcripts of Justice for My People: The Dr. Hector P. García Story, a documentary produced by Jeff Felts of KET-TV, Public Television, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

—Kari Bethel

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: E(mily) R. Frank (1967-) Biography - Personal to Martha Graham (1893–1991) BiographyHéctor Pérez García: 1914-1996: Physician, Civil Rights Advocate Biography - Gained Education And Army Experience, Fought For Civil Rights With Gi Forum, Generosity Mixed With Impatience