Henry B. González is just known as Henry B in San Antonio — and the nation. He was a force of nature.
Born in 1916, he was the son of Mexican immigrants — his father was a mayor in Durango — who fled the 1911 Mexican Revolution. Henry B served on our city council, then was elected to the State Senate, where in 1957 he attracted national attention for holding the longest filibuster in the history of the Texas Legislature — thirty-six hours — and succeeded in killing eight out of ten racial segregation bills that were aimed at circumventing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
In 1961 he was elected to the US House of Representatives to fill vacancy, and was there for 37 years, winning every election by at least 80 percent of the vote, sometime running unopposed. He was the first Texas Hispanic to serve there. When he retired in 1999, Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa remarked that González “never had a conflict of interest. . . . His only special interest was his constituents. He never let them down.”
One of his eight children, Charlie, was elected in his place. The 20th District seat is now held by Joaquín Castro. Henry B was chairman of the powerful banking committee: he had been predicting a banking crisis since the 1980s and dealt with the collapse of the savings and loans in 1989. He died in 2000.
That bare-bones summary of a rich and passionate life doesn’t do justice to the man. He’s been described as “tough and pugnacious.” He was also described as independent and honest. A boxer in his youth, when he was in his 70s he overheard a patron at a restaurant call him a communist: he punched him, giving the diner a black eye. But he was also a scholar, a graduate of St. Mary’s Law School who read Latin textbooks in his spare time. If you visit a home in his old district there’s a good chance his picture is still on the wall, right next to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The convention center, built in 1968, has a statue of Henry B at the corner of S. Alamo and E. Market. And if you’re wondering, the B stands for Barbosa.