Kennedy's Great Grandson and Family Called Racist in Class by Teacher

SAN ANTONIO, TX, June 1, 2010 – A Hispanic history and social studies teacher at Julius L. Matthey Middle School, 20350 Red Forest Lane in San Antonio, on Monday, May 17, told thirteen-year-old Steven Deaton, an Anglo boy in a class of Hispanic students, that his family "is racist."

The teacher, Laura Martinez, according to Steven, was instructing from a Texas History textbook about the 1949 Felix Longoria incident in Three Rivers, Texas. The textbook states that Longoria's family was "refused the use of the chapel" by the funeral home director. Steven is the great grandson of the director, Thomas W. Kennedy, Jr.

Steven said Ms. Martinez made additional remarks not in the textbook to the class about the "racist" attitude of the funeral home director and the people of Three Rivers.

Steven, who sits on the front row and the only Anglo in the class, spoke up to inform his teacher that the story about his "nana and great grandfather is not true." Martinez, said Steven, did not allow him to continue, but spoke over him to the class saying, "your family is a little bit racist."

"I felt embarrassed, angry, and sad all at the same time," said Steven. "I just didn't know what to do. I didn't want the teacher telling something about my nana and great grandfather that wasn't true, especially when I'm the only Anglo in class. But she did not let me tell what I knew."

Because Martinez allows students to speak from their seats while she teaches, Steven spoke up in defense of his great grandparents. He sat silently in humiliation as Martinez emphasized "your family is a little bit racist."

According to educator and consultant, BJ Hudson of Fort Worth, Texas, "It is the role of education to develop critical thinkers who act upon universal truths. Critical thinkers examine their own bias and listen to others, weighing all the evidence. This requires a safe environment which engenders trust and openness where all sides of every story are welcome."

Susan Kennedy-Zamzow, Steven's grandmother who lives in Three Rivers, called Vice Principal Gonzales Wednesday, May 19, to report the incident. He said he would look into it and get back to her. Ms. Zamzow says, "It's been over a week now, and I still have not heard from him or anyone else at the school."

The Texas History textbook in question was published in 2003 by Glenco-McGrawHill of New York. The textbook is one of five available for instruction in Texas History for middle school social studies throughout the State.

According to newspaper accounts, a misunderstanding in 1949 caused Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American GI Forum, to believe that Steven's great Grandfather, Thomas W. Kennedy, Jr., was guilty of racial discrimination in the arrangements for the wake of World War Two soldier, Felix Longoria. The GI Forum continues today to lobby for the inclusion of the accusation by its founder in the State's social studies textbooks.

Felix Longoria was killed in combat June 1945 and buried in Luzon, Philippines. In late 1948 his remains were disinterred and shipped back to Three Rivers for reburial.

His widow, Beatrice, sought to wake Longoria's remains in the local funeral home chapel, but because of a falling out with her in-laws over her boyfriend, she wanted the funeral home director, Tom Kennedy, to exclude her husband's family from the chapel during the wake.

According to witnesses in the chapel, Kennedy told the widow he had "never done that" and would "not do it now." So, he encouraged the widow to wake her deceased husband in her home if she wanted in-laws excluded. He would still perform the wake, funeral, and burial services, he assured her.

Dr. Hector P. Garcia accused Kennedy before an international audience of "refusing reinterment" of Longoria's remains because he was "of Mexican descent." This led everyone to believe that Kennedy had refused to bury Longoria.

"Garcia's accusation" says Susan Kennedy-Zamzow of Three Rivers, "made my grandfather appear racist toward Mexican-Americans when he was not."

Some sources continue to present the misunderstood version. The textbook changes it to "refuse the use of the chapel," which still gives the impression, says Sarah Deaton, that "my grandfather did this because he was racist. It is not a true representation of him, and I believe the textbook should present the other side of the story."

The incident in 1949 was investigated by the Army, the San Antonio regional chapter of the American Legion, the State Mortician's Board, and a special committee of the 51st State Legislature. Kennedy was found innocent of discrimination all four times.

However, Garcia continued to prosecute Kennedy in the press and, subsequently, was able to sway public opinion against Kennedy and Three Rivers. His version excludes the findings of the four official investigations.

When Susan Kennedy-Zamzow did not hear from Vice Principal Gonzales, her daughter, Sarah Deaton with her husband, Bill, brought their complaint to Principal, Roy Christian. According to Sarah Deaton, Christian "brushed us off with a quick remark that he did not believe his teacher would do such a thing. And it was over! Our meeting was over! Just like that!"

Sarah asked for an apology from Ms. Martinez for humiliating her son before his classmates by calling his family "racists." She also complained to the Principal that besides discrimination, the teacher suppressed Steven's freedom of speech to present what he knew about the incident involving his great grandfather Kennedy.

Principal, Roy Christian, denied her request. He also denied her request for an open venue to discuss the other side of the Longoria story with a curt, "No, that will never happen!"

The Deaton's presented a letter to Principal Christian that said, "We feel Steven is due an apology for the implication that he is racist, which he is not. Your consideration in this matter will be greatly appreciated by Steven and his family. Thank you for your courtesy in this matter.

"The curt and indifferent manner in which Principal Christian handled our complaint," says a disappointed Sarah Deaton, "tells us that we cannot expect reasonable or sincere restitution in this matter."

Sarah Deaton, Steven Deaton, and Susan Kennedy-Zamzow are availabe for interview. Contact Us, The Friends of Three Rivers, Texas. Photographs are available.