According to the THS press release, in 1948 the funeral home “refused to host a wake for Pvt. Longoria, who had been killed during WWII. The press release went on to say this refusal, many believed, was racially based, and it set off a firestorm of criticism in the national press concerning the segregation of, and discrimination against, Mexican Americans.”
The dedication began with welcoming remarks from Three Rivers Mayor James Liska. Following that, he indicated toward Three Rivers City Administrator Rosie Forehand and Alderman Ray Trevino, who placed two wreaths at the foot of the marker with banners that read, E Pluribus Unum.
“On the presidential seal of the United States is a motto that represents this great nation of ours. You’ll find it on our most common denomination, the American dollar. It says E Pluribus Unum. ‘From many, one.’ In other words, a multitude of different peoples have come together to make this great nation of ours what it is today,” Liska said.
Three Rivers Mayor Pro Tem Sammy Garcia added, “Because the people in this town believe in unity through diversity, we stand ready always to honor the veterans from our community who have fought and died for all Americans. It is the sacrifices made by veterans - women like Olivia Parker and men like Felix Longoria and Tom Kennedy - that give us freedom.
“The citizens of Three Rivers have graciously donated the wreaths to these men in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum. Identical wreaths to these were placed recently in Arlington for Felix and Bellwood, Pa., for Tommy.”
Three Rivers City officials declared they were there to respect all veterans. “We do not believe it would honor Felix to discuss the myths or the realities of the 1949 issues,” Garcia said.
Garcia was followed by greetings from Luis Figueroa, legislative attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Santiago Hernandez, civil rights chairman, American GI Forum for the Pvt. Longoria Chapter gave closing remarks.
Other speakers witnessing the historical event included Mary Helen Berlanga, State Board of Education member, Adela Cerra, daughter of Pvt. Longoria, Sara Posas, sister-in-law of Pvt. Longoria, Three Rivers Police Chief Vance Roberts and George West Mayor Sylvia Steele.
The THS press release states, “‘The Longoria Affair’ helped the American GI Forum, a local civil rights organization led by Dr. Hector Garcia, to gain national recognition. Ultimately, this local event helped shape the national conversation on civil rights, politics, racism and patriotism for decades.”
Three Rivers artist and historian Patty Reagan said, “The dedication was peaceful, mostly out-of-town GI Forum leaders, Longoria family members, city officials from Three Rivers and George West as well as Olivia Parker, owner of the old funeral home, and a few interested citizens.
“The wording on the marker is pretty factual but it is only half of the story. I suggest Three Rivers apply for a matching marker with the rest of the story. For example, the marker says ‘The “Longoria Affair’ brought an official investigation by the Texas Legislature.
“The rest of the story would say, ‘The Longoria Affair’ brought an official investigation by the Texas Legislature and ‘the committee therefore concluded that there was no discrimination on the part of the undertaker at Three Rivers, Texas, relative to the proposed burial of the body of the deceased, Felix Longoria.’ That is a historical fact from the Texas State Archives.”
Celia Ruiz, Tres Rios columnist, said, “I can feel the anguish of both Tommy Kennedy, who had just acquired the Manor Rice funeral home, and Beatrice Longoria, who had left Three Rivers four years before to live near her parents.”
Larry Oaks, executive director of the THC, said, “The Official Texas Historical Marker program helps bring attention to community treasures and the importance of their preservation. Awareness and education are among the best ways to guarantee the preservation of our state’s history. This designation is a tool that will increase public awareness of important cultural resources.”
“The people of Three Rivers were very gracious to all the visitors. I was pleased that we could agree to disagree, peacefully. Our city fathers from 1949, Mayor Jack Montgomery, Chamber of Commerce President Fred Ramsey and State Rep. J.F. Gray, would have been very proud of our Mayor James Liska, our Mayor Pro Tem Sammy Garcia and our Chamber of Commerce President Lloyd Grubbs for being there and standing tall and representing Three Rivers, Texas, so well,” added Reagan.
“Tom Kennedy and Felix Longoria were both World War II heroes and both were good family men. The two wreaths bearing their names reflect their patriotism and I hope we will continue to honor that,” said Ruiz in closing.
A subject qualifies for a marker if two basic criteria are met: historical significance and age. Historical significance is established by reviewing its role and importance in local history, and the age requirement depends on the topic. The THC’s Official Texas Marker Policies are outlined in the Official Texas Historical Marker Guidelines and Application Form, which may be obtained by contacting the History Programs Division, Texas Historical Commission.