Henry Barbosa Gonzalez Biography

Henry Barbosa Gonzalez

U.S. congressman
Born: 5/13/1916
Birthplace: San Antonio, Tex.

Gonzalez grew up on San Antonio's West Side in a shack with dirt floors and no running water. After being thrown out of swimming pools and restaurants as a child because he was Hispanic, Gonzalez resolved to fight discrimination. He studied engineering at the University of Texas and earned a law degree from St. Mary's University. He did not take the bar exam but served as a probation officer for several years, taking time off to serve in World War II. From 1950 to 1953 Gonzalez was director of the San Antonio Housing Authority, and in 1953 he was elected to the San Antonio City Council.

Gonzalez won a seat in the Texas State Senate in 1956, becoming the first Hispanic to serve in that body for 110 years. In the Senate, he became known for his opposition to segregation and the poll tax. In 1958 he lost a race for the Texas governorship, but he was elected to the U.S. Congress in a special election in 1961. He served for 37 years, and developed a reputation as a maverick liberal, fighting for improvements to public housing and civil rights and refusing to join the congressional Hispanic Caucus because of disagreements over various minority rights issues. A boxer while in college, Gonzalez was often feisty in arguments, threatening to give opponents a “knuckle sandwich.” In 1986, when a man in a restaurant called him a Communist, Gonzalez punched him in the face. Gonzalez was later acquitted of assault charges. As chairman of the powerful House banking committee from 1989 to 1995, Gonzalez was influential in setting housing and banking policy. He helped enact bills that established interstate branch banking and overhauled banking regulations. He retired in 1998.

Gonzalez married Bertha Cuellar in 1940. The couple had 8 children, 21 grandchildren, and, at the time of his death, one great-grandchild.

Died: 11/28/2000