Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales was born on June 18,1928 at Denver General Hospital in Denver, Colorado. His father, Federico Gonzales, was from Buena Ventura, Chihuahua, Mexico. His mother, Indalesia Lucero, was born in Colorado on June 30,1889. Corky Gonzales was the youngest of four brothers, one half-brother and three half-sisters. His mother died when he was two years old. He attended public elementary schools in Denver, and briefly in New Mexico. From the time he was ten years old, he worked in his spare time as a farm hand, a pin setter in bowling alleys and a hide gang laborer. Gonzales graduated from Manual High School in 1944 when he was 16 years old. He attended the University of Denver briefly, but the tuition became more than he could afford.
In 1944, Gonzales became an amateur boxer, fighting first at a Veteran's Athletic Club Smoker. While he belonged to the Epworth Boxing Club in Denver, he won both the Golden Gloves and Diamond Gloves Tournaments. In 1946, Gonzales was the Colorado Regional Amateur Flyweight Champion and, in 1947, he was the National Amateur Athletic Union Bantamweight Champion.
Turning professional in 1947, Gonzales fought 75 times as a featherweight. During his professional fight career, he made his home for a while in Omaha, Nebraska and St. Paul, Minneapolis. He fought the best of his day such as Willie Pep, Charley Riley, Gene Smith, The Flanagan brothers, Harold Dade, Lulu Perez, etc. His last professional bout was for a 1952 benefit bout in Denver for the Latin American Education Fund. Overall, Gonzales' professional record was 65-9-1. The National Boxing Association and Ring Magazine had him rated as high as the number three featherweight in the world.
After boxing, Gonzales opened what was arguably Denver's first sports bar: Corky's Corner on the corner of 38th and Walnut Street. Later on Corky sold his tavern and embarked on a new business: Corky's Bail Bonds in Denver. He also became a general agent for Summit Fidelity and Surety Company of Colorado in 1963. In 1965, Mayor Thomas Currigan appointed Gonzales as Director of Denver Neighborhood Youth Corps. Gonzales also acted as the Director of the War on Poverty. In 1966, Gonzales objected to a Rocky Mountain News story he felt was libelous toward him in particular and the Mexican American community in general. He was visibly angry in a news conference and led a protest at the newspaper building. Objecting to these behaviors, Currigan fired him from his Youth Corps position. Gonzales resigned his position as Director of the War on Poverty soon afterward. Gonzales was quoted as saying, "I'm an agitator and a trouble maker. That's my reputation and that's what I'm going to be. They didn't buy me when they put me into this job."
The first time Gonzales ran for political office was in 1955 in an unsuccessful bid for the Five Points City Council position that Elvin Caldwell eventually won. In 1960, he campaigned for John F. Kennedy coordinating the "Viva Kennedy" campaign in Colorado. In this campaign, Gonzales registered more Mexican Americans than at any other time in Colorado's political history allowing Kennedy to carry the State of Colorado. During this time, he was also serving as Colorado's first Mexican-American democratic District Captain. At the same time, he made an unsuccessful bid for State Representative in the Colorado Legislature. His final political effort was in 1967 when he ran for Denver mayor against Thomas Currigan. Again defeated, Gonzales sued Currigan for violating an old Denver campaign law.
In 1965, due to a complete and unbroken history of racism, bigotry and discrimination practiced by the dominant society against the Mexican-American in Denver, Colorado and the Southwest United States, Gonzales founded the Crusade for Justice as a social movement to empower the Chicano population. In 1969, Gonzales opened a summer Liberation School, and in 1970, the Escuela Tlatelolco was born as a school for Chicano children. The Ballet Chicano de Aztlan, a Chicano dance troupe, and El Teatro Pachuco was a part of Escuela Tlatelolco and made up of elementary, middle, and secondary school students. The Crusade for Justice building was at 1567 Downing Street.
Besides his writings, Gonzales was perhaps best known for his leadership and involvement in the Chicano Movement. He organized and led protests as well as spoke at rallies and university campuses throughout the country. In 1968, he led a Chicano contingent in the Poor People's March on Washington. In 1969, after racist remarks by a teacher, West High School students approached Gonzales to help the students by hosting meetings with adults, parents and students. The Crusade also provided support and guidance to student organizers who inspired the walkout at West High School in Denver. The Chicano Youth Conference of 1969 led to the writing of El Plan de Aztlan: a document that articulated Chicano political, social, economic, and educational issues and demands.
Violence was at times associated with Crusade activities. In March 1973, the police provoked shootings between the Denver Police and Crusade members led to a bombing of an apartment building owned by the Crusade for Justice and adjacent to the Crusade building. Luis Junior Martinez, a young teacher and dance director of the Crusade, was gunned down by police. In 1981, La Raza Park (otherwise known as Columbus Park) in Northwest Denver was cleared of people by Denver police during summer festivity event. In 1971, Gonzales was arrested at an anti-war rally in Los Angeles. He was convicted of allegedly carrying a loaded weapon and served four months in jail.
Gonzales married Geraldine Romero, born in Brighton, Colorado in 1931, in 1949. They had eight children, six daughters and two sons. Gonzales died on April 12, 2005 of congestive heart failure. He was 76 years old. He is aptly remembered as "the fist" of the Chicano Movement. In 2009, the 3rd Annual Corky Gonzales Symposium: 40 Years of Activism in Denver took place in the Tivoli Student Union at the Auraria Campus in Downtown Denver.
His legacy is multifold: he is honored as a founder of Chicano literature, a creator and promulgator of today's Hispanic cultural identity, and a voice against inequality in all forms. His efforts to fight police violence, to end poverty, and to stop educational discrimination were the precursors to contemporary struggles in the same arenas. As the website for the Rodolfo 'Corky' Gonzales Annual Symposium notes, "Even today, Chicanos are confronted with the same issues that were raised in 1969: voting rights, immigration, institutional racism in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, racial profiling, health care reform and the list goes on...
He believed the key to liberation for the Chicano community is to develop a strong power base with heavy reliance on nationalism among Chicanos. His contributions as a community organizer, youth leader, political activist, and civil rights advocate have helped to create a new spirit of Chicano unity."
History from Que Viva Corky