Saturday marks the 53rd anniversary of the day when Boyle Heights high school students joined an Eastside protest against inequalities in the school system that became known as the East LA Walkouts.
On March 6, 1968, hundreds of students at Theodore Roosevelt High School marched out of their classrooms in protest. Earlier in the week, students at Wilson and Garfield high schools had walked out, and by March 8, some 15,000 students at seven Eastside schools had joined the protest.
The protests were sparked by students’ frustration with what they saw as injustice in schools, including overcrowded classes, high dropout rates, and poor building conditions.
In an interview this week with Boyle Heights Beat youth reporter Adairis González, longtime activist Carlos Montes recalled his participation in the events of March 6, 1968:
“So one day, I had a meeting at the Church of Epiphany in Lincoln Heights, and they told me okay, Carlos, you and these guys, you go down to Lincoln High School and run in there and yell ‘walk out.’ So the next day, March the Sixth, we did that, we ran into Lincoln High School and started yelling, ‘walk out.’ The students [were] all ready, they came out.
There’s pictures of that… the cops [were] outside taking photos. So in front of Lincoln High School, you see everybody marching, you’ll see Montezuma Esparza, Sal Castro, myself. And then after that, we went over to Roosevelt….
“We went and ran over to Roosevelt at one o’clock. When we got the Roosevelt they had locked up the gate with chains. So we’re on the Mott street side over there by 6th street… and the gate was locked. The students throw a rope out. And we brought it out, we were pulling the gate on the rope and they were pushing. And I didn’t think it would ever be open anyway, but the chain popped open. And then everybody came rushing out and I turned around. And then the cops took pictures of us. So there’s a picture of that, too. You can google it.”
Montes added that the Walkouts –or blowouts, as they were also known– represented “the first time that Chicanos in an urban area came out and did a mass protest for two weeks.”
The East LA Walkouts are seen as a landmark moment in a larger Chicano movement for civil rights in the 1960s and 70s.
Carlos Montes was interviewed this week as part of Voces/Voices, a new storytelling project that aims to connect youth reporters with Boyle Heights and East LA elders. The project was a 2020 finalist in (and partially funded by) the LA2050 Grants Challenge. It is also partially funded by the Snap Foundation.
If you are a Boyle Heights or East Los Angeles resident and are 60 or older – or know someone who is – and are interested in participating in the project, please reach out to [email protected], call (323) 834-9752 or DM us on Twitter and Instagram @boyleheightsbt.