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Activist and Teacher Sal Castro Honored at Funeral

Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Pool Photo

Former students and colleagues today paid their final respects and hailed the career of former LAUSD teacher Sal Castro, who joined his students in Eastside school walkouts in 1968 to protest inequities in educational opportunities for Latinos.

Castro, whose efforts were depicted in the HBO film "Walkout," died April 15 of natural causes at age 79, according to his family.

During a funeral service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, friends praised Castro's efforts to make life better for his Latino students.

"Sal dedicated his life to education and for the betterment of educational opportunities for thousands upon thousands of young Chicano students," former California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno said.

Castro worked at various inner-city schools before landing a teaching job at Belmont High School, where he taught social studies. But his activism with Spanish-speaking students led to his transfer to Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights.

Sal Castro is a Union Bank/KCET Local Hero.

Castro was part of a committee that made recommendations to officials about ways of improving education for Latino students, and he began working with students whose meetings became the Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences, which trained Latino student activists and leaders.

Castro became increasingly vocal in his criticism of inequalities between Eastside schools and other campuses.

Unrest among activists and students led to walkouts -- which were later dubbed "Blowouts" -- that began in March 1968 with one school, then grew to include five campuses, including Lincoln, and Latino college students. The demonstrations eventually led to clashes between students and police.

Castro was arrested and charged with disrupting schools and disturbing the peace, although the charges were later dropped.

"He put his career, and perhaps even his life, on the line for the students in this movement," Mario Garcia, a former professor at UC Santa Barbara, said. "He didn't do it because he personally wanted publicity or rewards. He did it because of the injustices of an educational system that for decades had denied Mexican American students a quality education."

A middle school on the campus of Belmont High School was named Sal Castro Middle School in his honor in 2009.

Castro's work on behalf of inner-city schools and participation in the student marches was depicted in the 2006 HBO film "Walkout," directed by Edward James Olmos.

After Castro's death, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina compared him to Cesar Chavez.

"For Latinos in Los Angeles, Sal Castro was as influential and inspirational as United Farm Workers co-founder Cesar Chavez was nationally -- an example of the power of organizing who personified the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds," Molina said.

Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Pool Photo

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