Obledo (Left) with President Bill Clinton | Photo courtesy of The New York Times

MARIO G. OBLEDO was born on April 9, 1932 in San Antonio, Texas, where his immigrant parents raised him and his twelve siblings under economically difficult circumstances. This did not deter his interest in education and he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in 1949.  The Korean War interrupted his education and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951, training in radar technology. He served on naval vessels during his five year career in the military. 

After being  discharged, Obledo returned to the University of Texas at Austin and graduated with  a degree in Pharmacy in 1957. This fulfilled a childhood dream that began at age twelve when he worked for a pharmacist. His former boss was one of the few voices other than his parents who encouraged him to pursue further education. Obledo began working as a pharmacist which paid for his continued education at St. Mary’s University School of Law, where he graduated in 1960.

Obledo embarked on a distinguished career fighting for Latino rights. In 1967, he co-founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). He was the organization’s first general counsel and served as Executive Director from 1970-1973. MALDEF soon became a leading Latino civil legal rights organization that won landmark legal cases promoting Latino education and voting rights. After MALDEF, Obledo taught at Harvard Law School and then worked as California’s health and welfare secretary during 1975-1982.

Obledo co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association and the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations and was an early leader of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SWVRP).  He was president of the  League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in the mid-1980s, and chairman of the National Rainbow Coalition from 1988 to 1993.

Obledo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Bill Clinton in 1998, one of the highest honors the nation bestows on its citizens. In 2010, Mario G. Obledo died at the age of 78 after living a fulfilling life as an activist for the Hispanic community.

By Danielle Garza, St. Mary’s University Law Fellows in Public History (2018)


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