Southwest Council of La Raza

Research led to a series of organizational meetings among Chicano leaders and, as a result, Herman Gallegos, Dr. Julian Samora, and Dr. Ernesto Galarza founded the Southwest Council of La Raza (SWCLR), NCLR’s predecessor, in Arizona in February 1968. Initial financial support came from the Council of Churches, the United Auto Workers, and a Ford Foundation planning grant, and by April of that year SWCLR had received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

Gallegos, the organization’s first Executive Director, was an activist from San Francisco, highly respected for his strong organizational skills. He was known for maintaining credibility with every sector of society with which he interacted, including labor, business, foundations, and the press. Samora, a founding member of the Board of Directors, has been described as a rare individual who mentored an entire generation of Latino scholars, and whose work met the highest academic standards yet was filled with a passion for justice. Galarza, a professor, author, accomplished musician, and expert on farmworker issues, considered by many the dean of Chicano activism, served as a consultant to the new organization. The distinct talents and credibility of these men contributed not only to building a strong foundation for the organization but also to bringing together leadership in the community.

In the summer of 1968, SWCLR began to help establish and support barrio (community) organizations, with the goals of developing and strengthening other local organizations, and promoting empowerment, voter registration, leadership development, and other forms of advocacy. Seven organizations* in three states became its first “Affiliates”—Mexican American–controlled nonprofit organizations with a formal relationship to SWCLR—and SWCLR provided subgrants to these and other advocacy groups.

During these early years, the organization made several formative decisions that have since profoundly shaped the organization’s development. It was at this time, for example, that SWCLR’s ideological commitment to nonpartisanship was affirmed, even at substantial cost to the organization. In 1972, the Committee to Re-Elect the President demanded that SWCLR’s leadership endorse President Nixon and identify more closely with the administration. The leaders of SWCLR refused and, as a result, the organization lost its federal funding. In another important decision, SWCLR bylaws were amended in 1973 to require equal representation of men and women on the 26-member Board of Directors. This amendment signified a substantial change for the organization’s leadership, as the original Board had included just one woman. Today, the organization is one of only a few that maintains such a rule.


* Mexican American Unity Council (MAUC), Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), Mexican American Community Programs Foundation (MACPF), The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU), Spanish-Speaking Unity Council (SSUC), Mission Development Council (MDC), and OBECA/Arriba Juntos Center

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