SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Some might consider former United States President Lyndon B. Johnson as one who didn’t forget where he came from when he made it to “the top.”
The National Constitution Center reports that as a student at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, Johnson was assigned to a tiny Hispanic school in a deeply impoverished area on the Mexican border.
This may be one of many reasons why the 36th President signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week bill into law on Sept. 17, 1968. The bill authorized the President to designate the week of Sept. 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week.”
This resulted in celebrations and a time when Presidents issued public statements and hosted receptions while praising the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States society.
During a Sept. 17, 1968 proclamation, Johnson said, “It is with special pride that I call the attention of my fellow citizens to the great contribution to our national heritage made by our people of Hispanic descent — not only in the fields of culture, business, and science but also through their valor in battle.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus celebrated the week by citing examples of Hispanic-American contributions to the United States.
Henry B. Gonzalez was a major contributor. In 1960 he was elected to his first term in Congress and went on to serve 37 years in the House, making him the longest-serving Hispanic Member in Congress.
Rita Moreno, another contributor who is known to have enthralled audiences with her portrayal of Anita in 1961’s West Side Story, went on to cement her name in history by winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role, becoming the first-ever Hispanic American woman to win an Academy Award.
Dr. Ellen Ochoa made her mark by becoming the first Hispanic American woman to go to space in 1993. She also made history on board the Space Shuttle Discovery on a mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer and eventually went on to complete three more missions and 30 years of Space service.
National Hispanic Heritage Week was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
For more information on National Hispanic Heritage Month click here.