DeGolyer Library Special Collections

Honoring Santos Rodriguez

Mid-May of this year, I discovered a series of contact sheets and photographs in the Andy Hanson collection here at the DeGolyer Library. Hanson was a photographer for the Dallas Times Herald. I didn’t know what I was looking at except that the pictures were of a demonstration. I could see that in some frames of the contact sheets, people were carrying banners that read, “March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez.” Unaware of the event, I Googled it and found that the images were of the demonstration in Dallas July 28, 1973 after the brutal and senseless murder of a child, 12 year old Santos Rodriguez, by a Dallas policeman. The images are moving and interesting documents of that important multicultural demonstration led by Hispanics. Sometimes called a race riot, it is the only such demonstration in the history of Dallas, although many such events were happening at the time all over the U.S.

In the early morning hours of July 24, policemen thought they saw Santos and his brother leave the scene of a vandalized gas station vending machine in the Little Mexico neighborhood. Police went to their home, handcuffed the boys and put them in their squad car. The boys denied being involved with the robbery.

Then, Officer Darrell L. Cain decided to play Russian-roulette, aiming the gun at Santos’s head. He pulled the trigger once — nothing; the second time, a bullet struck Santos’s head killing him as his brother, now drenched in blood, watched helplessly. Cain was tried for murder and was given a five year sentence by an all white jury. He only served two and a half years. It was later found that the two boys had nothing to do with the vending machine theft.

Florentino A. Ramirez, Rudy Sanchez and Rene Martinez and Demonstrators Link Arms During March.

Four days after Santos was murdered, thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Dallas. The march started at the Kennedy Memorial and proceeded east on Main Street to the old City Hall.

News Crews and Demonstrators Outside Old City Hall, March of Justice.

The demonstration was peaceful until a second group of marchers showed up – they were younger, angrier and some intoxicated. Then the march turned into a riot with random looting and vandalism.


Demonstrator Lights Police Motorcycle on Fire, March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez.
Police and Demonstrators Clash, the March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez.

Today, July 24, 2018 is the forty-fifth anniversary of Santos’s death. There have been events to commemorate his life and murder, and an extraordinary new documentary film, “Santos Vive” by Byron Hunter to illustrate the historical facts with important interviews and period film footage and still photographs. There are plans for the city of Dallas to create a Santos memorial to honor him and the accomplishments of the city’s Mexican American community. A Santos Rodriguez public art project is underway for Pike Park on Harry Hines Boulevard located in the old Little Mexico neighborhood, and there are thoughts of changing the name of the park to Santos Rodriguez Park as a lasting memorial.

Anne E. Peterson

Curator of Photographs, DeGolyer Library, SMU

Note SMU scholarship: The Santos Rodriguez Memorial Endowed Scholarship at SMU promotes Human Rights education for emerging leaders and honors the memory of a young boy whose life ended far too soon. Scholarship funds provide support to qualified students studying Human Rights at SMU. As one of only seven institutions in the nation to offer an undergraduate degree in Human Rights, SMU is dedicated to nurturing a new generation of ethical and effective leaders.