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Crusade for Justice is born

By James Mejia

El Chicano Movimiento series

Police brutality, inaccurate and insensitive media coverage of events involving people of color, discrimination in the workplace – the list of grievances sounds eerily familiar and a group of Denverites in the mid-60’s had enough. Emerging from a non-partisan group called Los Voluntarios, the Crusade for Justice was born out of frustration of living in a system that did not serve the residents of Denver equitably.

A former Democratic political captain had been fired from his patronage job working with area youth for protesting racist coverage by the Rocky Mountain News. When Denver Mayor, Tom Currigan, handed Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales his walking papers from the Neighborhood Youth Corps, he catalyzed the movement toward an independent organization serving the Chicano community and gave the Crusade for Justice its leader, and personification of the entire Chicano movement in Colorado.

“They didn’t buy me when they gave me this job,” was Corky’s retort when asked how a City of Denver employee could organize a protest, according to Corky’s son, Rudy Gonzales.

Corky was the natural chair of the organization given his status as suddenly available, his passion for serving his community, the reflection on the recent death of his father, and his notoriety for athleticism in the boxing ring – once winning the National Amateur Athletic Union bantamweight title in 1946. What César Chávez and Dolores Huerta were to California and Reies Lopez Tijerina was to New Mexico, Corky Gonzales was to Colorado – the face and leader of the movement – brash, determined, independent, and decidedly moving toward self-determination of the Chicano community.

The founding board of the Crusade for Justice is a “Who’s Who” in early Chicano activism and achievement, all leaders in their own right and all achieving positions of prominence in their fields of interest to give weight, professionalism and political influence to the positions that would be taken by the Crusade. From boxer, Ralph Luna, to entrepreneur, John Haro, and from War on Poverty representative, Charlie Vigil, to Democratic Party captain, Eloy Espinoza, the board was steeped with talented bootstrappers achieving in a system stacked against them. Their individual standing and unity as a board led the Crusade to Justice to almost immediate prominence and provided the ability to meet with local or national politicians and policy makers.

Founding Crusade for Justice board member, Desi DeHerrera, held a position investigating police brutality. Originally from the San Luis Valley, he, like many others came to Denver for work. What he found upon arrival was discouraging, “So many places didn’t hire Latinos. Coors, the Post Office, local utilities… When the Crusade started to question these practices, at least some of them started to open up. It took boycotting others to make change.”

The Crusade for Justice would hit their stride in the late 1960s when they protested against the Vietnam War, held demonstrations against racist media and police brutality toward youth of color, organized legal cases in employment discrimination and organized and supported high school walkouts across the state, most notably the Denver West High School walkout. The Crusade had a prominent place in the national movements of the day including the Poor People’s March on Washington, and the United Farm Workers protests and pickets in California. Closer to home, the Crusade produced “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan” outlining self-determination of the Chicano community and gave birth to the Colorado Raza Unida Party.

At its peak, the Crusade for Justice was a movement but also a substantial holder of property used to provide services for the Chicano community in Denver – job training, a food bank, book store, dance troupe, a Chicano-centric school, and the first Chicano art gallery in Denver founded by renowned artist and sculptor, Carlos Santistevan.

In the mid 1970’s the Crusade for Justice disbanded. There are several versions as to why including a standoff with Denver Police over a jaywalking incident in front of Crusade headquarters where injuries on both sides seemed to cool momentum and prosecution of Crusade members on weapons charges took important players off the field. Other versions include Corky’s disagreement with board members on how the physical assets of the organization were to be operated and financed.

For Rudy Gonzales, now Executive Director of Servicios de la Raza, the Crusade hasn’t ever died, “The Crusade for Justice was never about bricks and mortar, it is a movement, a behavior and a belief system. It was ingrained in us to continue the philosophy and the action. If anything, the issues facing our community have become more pronounced and our work continues.”

The odds are great
But my spirit is strong,
My faith unbreakable,
My blood is pure.
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.
Yo Soy Joaquin
~ Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales

Rodolfo Gonzales, 76, Boxer and Activist, Dies, By The Associated Press, April 16, 2005

Parte 1
Parte 2
Parte 3
Parte 4
Parte 5





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