Jonathan Copp, RIP.
Jonathan Copp, RIP.

Teaching Museum Uses Adventure Films to Help Fund Mendez v. Westminster Exhibit

What do the plucky Museum of Teaching and Learning, an internationally acclaimed film festival and the landmark Mendez v. Westminster School District case of 1946 have in common?

All three could learn you something.

The Fullerton-based Museum of Teaching and Learning (MOTAL) is struggling to survive amid the economic mess we find ourselves in. It's pinning its hopes on its annual summer social--which this year features selected short films from the Adventure Film Festival--to generate enough money to fund a new exhibit about the case that ended school segregation in California.
Themed "A Night of Adventure," the summer social will feature film producer Mark Reiner introducing clips and talking about the travels of the late Jonathan Copp, who created the Adventure Film Festival five years ago. Copp was killed in June by an avalanche on Mt. Edgar in southwestern China while taping a National Geographic special.

"A Night of Adventure"--which will also include food, wine, beer, a silent auction and music from the jazz band Elnora and Sumpthin' Cookin--is set to run from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, in Cal State Fullerton Titan Student Union's Pavilions A and B. Tickets are $50 for general admission, $35 for students. 

Greta Nagel, professor emeriti from the Department of Teacher Education at Cal State Long Beach, created MOTAL in 2002 to promote how people learn by providing interactive exhibits and activities that explore achievements and methods of education from the past, present and future. So far, these exhibits have been displayed at loaned or rented facilities, generally on the Cal State Fullerton campus. But donors and volunteers are being sought to help establish a permanent museum space.

Such a place will not be on line by the fall of 2010, when MOTAL's free Mendez v. Westminster exhibit is scheduled to occupy the Old Courthouse Museum in Santa Ana. 

Five Mexican-American fathers--Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino and Lorenzo Ramirez--filed suit against the Westminster School District on March 2, 1945, in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, claiming their children and 5,000 others of "Mexican" ancestry were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate "schools for Mexicans" in the El Modena, Santa Ana, Westminster and Garden Grove school districts.

Senior District Judge Paul J. McCormick, who presided at trial, ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on Feb. 18, 1946, ruling that segregated schools are an unconstitutional denial of equal protection. The school districts appealed to the Ninth Federal District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which upheld McCormick's decision, finding that the segregation practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Governor Earl Warren, who would later preside over Brown v. Board of Education as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, signed into law the repeal of remaining segregationist provisions in the California statutes.


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