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A bust of former State Representative and District Attorney Oscar M. Laurel in the Webb County Courthouse in Laredo, Texas

Oscar Manuel Laurel, Sr., (June 8, 1920 - March 29, 2001) (pronounced LAH RAIL) was a U.S. attorney, businessman, and Hispanic Democratic politician from Laredo, Texas, whose legendary oratory excited his party's faithful. "He had a great talent for words," said Hector Garcia, a former Laurel business partner. Vidal M. Trevino, late superintendent of the Laredo Independent School District, agreed. Trevino called Laurel "the best orator we have ever had."[1] Laurel was one of five Laredoans to have served as president of the Hispanic interest group, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)heading the organization for 1955–1956.[2]

Contents

Early life

Laurel was born in heavily Hispanic and Democratic Laredo, in south Texas. He graduated in 1937 from Martin High School. He married the former Elsa Gonzalez, who was a descendant from one of the founders of Laredo.[1] The couple had a son and a daughter.

Laurel graduated from the Catholic-affiliated Loyola University in New Orleans.[3] He then entered the United States Army Air Corps, in which he served from 1941 to 1945. He was an airplane mechanic on B-17s and B29s and attained the rank of staff sergeant. After military service in World War II, Laurel enrolled in a pre-law curriculum at the University of Texas at Austin. He then completed his legal studies at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. He opened his law practice in Laredo in 1948.[2]

Political career

Laurel launched his own political career in 1956, with election to the Texas House of Representatives, where he served two terms from the 80th District. He joined Kika de la Garza of Hidalgo County as the only two Hispanics in the Texas House from 1957 to 1959. In the House, Laurel also opposed a bill that would have made peyote an "unlawful dangerous substance".[1]

In 1960, rather than seeking a third term in the legislature, Laurel was elected district attorney of Webb, Zapata, and Dimmit counties. He had already been a special investigator for the DA's office from 1952-1956. He was reelected in 1964 but left the position in 1967, when he accepted an appointment from Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Transportation Safety Board. Laurel remained on the board through 1972, under Richard M. Nixon.[1]

In 1973, Laurel was named executive director of the International Good Neighbor Council, a nonprofit organization founded in 1954 to promote goodwill and friendship between the United States and Mexico. The main council office is in Monterrey, Mexico. Laurel headed the organization until 1975; thereafter, he was the president of the council. He was also a former member of the National Advisory Council on Rural Poverty.[4]

Personal life and death

Laurel was also a rancher and a banker. He and his son founded Falcon International Bank in Laredo, one of the largest Hispanic-owned banks in the nation.[1] He was affiliated with Rotary International and the Optimist Club, which he headed in Laredo from 1977-1978. He was a member of the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis.[2]

Laurel died of a lingering illness in a Laredo hospital. A funeral mass was held at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, and interment followed in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Laredo.[1] He is honored with his bust in the lobby of the Webb County Courthouse in Laredo, along with that of a subsequent district attorney, Charles Robert Borchers, who served from 1973-1980.[5]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Arambula, Odie (2001-03-30). "Civic leader Laurel dies at 80". Laredo Morning Times: p. 1.  
  2. ^ a b c "Past Presidents: Oscar M. Laurel". League of United Latin American Citizens. http://www.lulac.org/about/history/history.html.  
  3. ^ Somos Primos
  4. ^ PRINCIPAL-HOME - www.cibv-ignc.org
  5. ^ Laurel bust inscription, Webb County Courthouse, Laredo, Texas
Preceded by
Unknown
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from District 80 (Laredo)

1957–1961
Succeeded by
Vidal M. Trevino
Preceded by
Frank Pinedo
President of the interest group, League of United Latin American Citizens
1955–1956
Succeeded by
Felix Tijerina
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