Ruben Salazar: Champion of Hispanic civil rights

A national journalism conference in Anaheim, Calif., last month provided an opportunity to learn about the Civil Rights Movement from the Hispanic perspective after a week of reminders of the famous Martin Luther King Jr. “dream” speech.

The Excellence in Journalism 2013 conference was sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, of which I am a past national president; Radio Television Digital News Association; and National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

A preview was shown of “Latino Americans,” promoted as the first major documentary series for TV to chronicle the history and experiences of Latinos in the U.S. It will air on PBS on Sept. 17.  Among those discussing the documentary afterward was Juan Gonzalez, author of a book, “News For All The People,” New York Daily News columnist and co-host of a syndicated TV and radio show, “Democracy Now!”

I met Gonzalez later at a book signing and mentioned I was the last editor of the El Paso Herald-Post in Texas in the mid-‘90s. During my time there, I became very interested in immigration issues since the community was 75 percent Hispanic and borders Juarez, Mexico.

Courtesy Special Collections UCLA/From Book Ruben Salazar/Border Correspondent

Courtesy Special Collections UCLA/From Book Ruben Salazar/Border Correspondent

Gonzalez took his book and pointed me to what he had written about Ruben Salazar, who began his reporting career with the Herald-Post in the 1950s and then moved on to the Los Angeles Times. He later went to KMEX, a Los Angeles Spanish-language TV station.

Sadly, he was killed at age 42 during a Vietnam War protest by young Chicanos. More than 25,000 participants converged in Laguna Park in east Los Angeles and a riot ensued after a minor disturbance led police to arrest a keynote speaker, Gonzalez writes. Salazar was killed by a sheriff’s deputy in a bar following the riot where he and a camera crew had gone for refuge. The circumstances surrounding his death remain in dispute.

Salazar was killed on Aug. 29, 1970, which was 43 years ago. At the time, he was the most influential Latino journalist of his era.

On the recent 50th anniversary of the speech by King at the Washington Mall, throngs gathered on that spot to hear President Barack Obama pay tribute.

Not nearly as many remembered Salazar, but Raul A. Reyes, a columnist for USA Today, did.

“Salazar deserves to be remembered for his crusade against social injustice, and because he devoted his life to empowering his community,” Reyes wrote.

Salazar’s legacy includes the formation of the California Chicano News Media Association, which led to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor in 2008.

(Courtesy of Knoxville Sentinel/previously published)

“Latinos Americans” premieres on PBS September 17th on PBS at 8pm Eastern.

Georgiana Vines is retired News Sentinel associate editor, and member of the SPJ Diversity Committee.

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