Legendary Civil Rights Leader Leaves a Legacy of Advocacy

LOS ANGELES, CA - MALDEF mourns the loss of Dallas civil rights leader and one of its former Board members, Adelfa Botello Callejo. Callejo was an attorney, civic leader and one of the most-respected Hispanic activists in the country. She was 90 and had battled a return of brain cancer since last year.

Earning her degree after taking night courses, she was the first Hispanic female to graduate from Southern Methodist University Law School. Callejo began her career as an advocate for the disadvantaged and worked in the fields of education, housing, immigration, voting rights, and other social justice issues.

Her uncle was deported without getting a trial and that event sparked her lifetime pursuit to fight for the rights of Hispanics and other minorities. She was a leader in the community for years, advocating and leading rallies in hopes of reforming immigration laws. Callejo's final fight was to boost low-performing schools in Dallas, believing there was a moral obligation to help the principals of low-performing schools convert their schools into exemplary institutions.

President and General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, issued the following statement in response to the passing of former MALDEF Board Member, Adelfa Botello Callejo: "Adelfa Callejo was a pioneer among women lawyers, a pioneer among Latino lawyers, and a pioneer among immigrants' rights lawyers; our nation has lost a genuine icon of justice."

Callejo was an advocate for more than 40 years. In 1973, she organized protests against the killing of Santos Rodriguez, a 12-year-old boy shot in a squad car by a Dallas police officer. In the 1980s, she organized and led hundreds of demonstrators through downtown Dallas to protest deportations which left several U.S. citizen-children without parents. In response, she filed a lawsuit to prevent family breakups. She also helped bring about the city's first single-member council districts, which went on to launch the careers of many African American and Hispanic politicians.

Antonia Hernandez, former President and General Counsel of MALDEF, also expressed her condolences in the wake of Ms. Callejo's passing: "She was a great friend, a great supporter, and one of the first to champion immigrants' rights as a civil rights issue."

"Adelfa's extraordinary commitment and dedication to the Latino community made her a role model for all of us. She also set an example for the Latina lawyers whom she mentored. She taught us to give our time generously and never to stop advocating for justice," said Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation, MALDEF.

Callejo served two terms on the MALDEF board of directors. From 1984-87 she served as both Third Vice-Chair (1985) and as First Vice-Chair (1986). Her second term was from 1989-92 during which she served as First Vice Chair in 1992. Additionally, Callejo served on the boards of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the Dallas Housing Authority, the Hispanic Leadership Forum, the Dallas Hispanic Citizens Council, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Dallas, LULAC of Dallas, Mexican-American Business of Professional Women, American GI Forum, and more.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund