Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Saturnino Alvarado

Mary I. Beveridge
Formerly Missouri Valley Special Collections
Saturnino Alvarado
Saturnino Alvarado. Courtesy of Rose Marie Mendez.

Relatively little is known about the life of Saturnino Alvarado, but his impact on the lives of Hispanic Americans in the Kansas City area was profound and enduring.

Alvarado was born November 29, 1883, in Michoacan, Mexico, to Justo and Juanita Chavez Alvarado. He was a shoe cobbler and established a shoe repair shop in the Argentine District of Kansas City, Kansas, after his family immigrated to the United States. When his first wife Concepcion Franco died, he remarried Guadalupe Araujo.

In the 1920s Mexican children in Kansas City, Kansas, were taught separately from Anglos, supposedly because of their language difficulties, although lighter-skinned Mexicans often managed to stay in the regular classrooms as "Spanish." The darker-skinned Mexican children were relegated to classrooms in basements or annexes that were often cold, damp, overcrowded, and under-equipped. They were punished for speaking Spanish on the playgrounds. There was no provision for education past the eighth grade.

Many Mexican families didn’t care if their children received more education, particularly their daughters. Saturnino Alvarado was different, however. A high school graduate himself, he loved poetry and plays and was determined that his two children, Jesus and Luz, would attend Argentine High School. A year earlier, six Mexican children had attempted to enroll at Major Hudson School but had been driven out by the objections of Anglo parents.

Anglo parents objected strongly, presenting petitions to the Kansas City, Kansas, school board and threatening violence if the students were permitted to enroll. The school board offered first to provide a separate classroom and teacher for the four students and then to pay car fare and tuition to send them to high schools in Kansas City, Missouri. Saturnino and his wife stood their ground, insisting that their children be allowed to study in their neighborhood school. As a means of passive resistance, they held their children out of school for a year. The County Attorney, Harry Hayward, took up their cause, stressing the legal requirement to provide separate but equal education. The case was brought before the Mexican Consul in Kansas City who threatened to bring in the United States State Department. Finally, the two Alvarado children and Marcos de Leon entered Argentine High School in the fall of 1926. Although many parties were involved in the victory, it is generally agreed that Saturnino Alvarado was the main force in the campaign.

Saturnino died on August 9, 1955, and is interred in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.

In 2003, the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at Kansas City, Kansas Community College inducted him, and the school auditorium at Argentine Middle School was renamed for him.


A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-saturnino-alvarado-1883-1955-...