who is sylvia Mendez?—Separate is never equal

Young Sylvia Mendez.jpg

In 2018, the Berkeley Unified School District voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the Naming Advisory Committe and change the name of our school from LeConte Elementary to Sylvia Mendez Elementary School. However, many do not know the story of Sylvia Mendez, her family, and all of those who fought to end segregation in education in California.

Sylvia Mendez was born in Santa Ana, California in 1936. As a young child, Ms. Mendez was the child at the center of the landmark 1947 case, Mendez vs. Westminster, in which her parents and neighbors fought against segregated education for children of Mexican descent in southern California, a case that banned segregation in California public schools and paved the way for the national ban on segregated schools in Brown vs. Board of Education seven years later.

After retiring from a career as a pediatric nurse, Ms. Mendez devoted her life to telling the story of her family and the legacy of the case, and in 2011 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama for her advocacy for educational opportunity for “children of all backgrounds and all walks of life.”

In 2011 Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

In 2011 Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Welcoming Sylvia Mendez to our school and community

On September 14, 2018, Sylvia Mendez Elementary School had the honor of welcoming Ms. Mendez to the first school named in her honor and celebrating the milestone with her. Ms. Mendez spent the day with our students, many of whom read about her story in class, and were able to ask her questions about her life. In a heartwarming and emotional celebration, Ms. Mendez was so impressed with our “school that was so multicultural” and said, “It topped the Medal of Freedom because this is about education. This is about students.”


Learn more about Sylvia Mendez's story in the following books for young readers: