Former LAUSD teacher Sal Castro, who joined his students in East Los Angeles school walkouts in 1968 to protest inequities in educational opportunities for Latinos and whose efforts were documented in the HBO film “Walkout,” died today at age 79, according to his family.
The educator and activist died peacefully of natural causes, according to the family. Funeral services were pending.
Former state legislator and now Los Angeles City Council candidate Gil Cedillo said via Twitter, “Today we lost a giant in the Chicano movement.”
Castro worked at various inner-city schools before landing a teaching job at Belmont High School, where he taught social studies. But his activism with Spanish-speaking students led to him being transferred to Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles.
He was part of a committee that made recommendations to the county about ways of improving education for Latino students, and began working with students whose meetings became the Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences, which trained Latino student activists and leaders.
Castro became increasingly active in his criticism of inequalities between East Los Angeles schools and other campuses. Unrest among activists and students led to walkouts – which were later dubbed “Blowouts” – that began in March 1968 with one school, then grew to include five campuses, including Lincoln, and Latino college students. The demonstrations eventually led to clashes between students and police.
Castro was arrested and charged with disrupting schools and disturbing the peace, although the charges were later dropped.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina compared Castro with Cesar Chavez.
“For Latinos in Los Angeles, Sal Castro was as influential and inspirational as United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez was nationally – an example of the power of organizing who personified the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds,” Molina said.
LAUSD Board of Education President Monica Garcia said Castro “will be remembered as a teacher, counselor, leader and courageous adult who stood with students in the 1968 walkouts and ever since dedicated his life to learning and leadership. Sal Castro’s courage and dedication will continue to be inspirational to future generations of students and educators.”
A middle school on the campus of Belmont High School was named Sal Castro Middle School in his honor in 2009.
Castro’s work on behalf of inner-city schools and participation in the student marches was documented in the HBO film “Walkout,” directed by Edward James Olmos.
City Councilman Jose Huizar said Castro was a “warrior” for education.
“He put himself at considerable risk during a volatile time in our country’s history and never gave up the fight,” Huizar said. “I had the honor of getting to know him during my time on the LAUSD Board of Education. He was a true hero and an icon whose work continues through the countless people he inspired.”
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, called Castro “a tireless fighter and devoted public servant to our community.”
“His life’s work inspired a generation of activists to follow his lead in working to improve educational opportunities for all children, especially Spanish-speaking and minority students who had to overcome many barriers in pursuit of a good education to better their lives,” he said.