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Civil Rights Leader Adelfa Callejo Dies At 90

Madeline Schmitt & Susy Solis| CBSDFW.com |
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This story was updated at 10:35 p.m. on Jan. 25

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Civil rights leader, philanthropist, attorney and education activist are a few of the titles Adelfa Botello Callejo was known for. At 1:08 a.m. on Saturday, Callejo died at 90 years old from a brain tumor.

She battled cancer three times, but cancerous cells grew back in her brain.

A memorial mass will be held for Callejo at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady Guadalupe in downtown Dallas. It will open for the public.

Callejo was born in Millett, Texas and picked cotton as a young girl.

Her nephew, J.D. Gonzalez, said his aunt’s anger towards injustice began when she noticed two graveyards. One for Hispanics and one for Anglos.

The separation seemed unjust to her and the anger fueled her for the rest of her life.

“Anger is my best suit,” she once said in an interview with CBS11. “Somebody asked me once, ‘Why are you always angry?’ So I recited all the reasons why. I said, ‘Because I’m not listened to.'”

She knew education and money could allow her to be heard.

After 10 years of going to night school, Callejo became the first Hispanic Woman to graduate from SMU’s Dedman School of Law and became an attorney.

But her passion was always empowering the disenfranchised and one of her lifelong causes was to get Hispanics to vote and into more roles in government.

She set out to help women gain confidence and get educated.

“She was fearless. She feared no one and she feared nothing,” Gonzalez said.

For her influence, she was known as “La Madrina,” or The Godmother.

She earned numerous awards for her work and advocacy, including the LULAC Hispanic Entrepreneurship Award, Marking Luther King, Jr. Justice Award and the Sandra Day O’Connor Award to name a few.

She also remained a controversial figure late into her life.

But even cancer couldn’t slow her down. Callejo beat colon cancer in 2007 and breast cancer is 2008.

In 2010, her commitment to her cause showed when she participated in a Dallas Immigration Rally, from her wheelchair.

In 2012, two brain tumors were discovered.

“She said, ‘Well, I whipped the first one. I whipped the  second one. Here comes the next challenger. I’ll whip that one too,” Gonzalez said.

Just weeks after getting the tumors removed at age 89, Callejo insisted on going back to work.

But the cancerous cells eventually grew back. She kept fighting.

In April of 2013, a Dallas ISD school was built bearing her name.

Callejo promoted education her entire life and donated generously to award scholarships to children.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

According Gonzales, Callejo was surrounded by loved ones when her “valiant fight ended in tranquility and peace.”

“She blazed trails where none existed.  For Adelfa, nothing was impossible,” Gonzales said of her.

A statement from interim Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez lamented on Callejo’s death:

“Adelfa Callejo will be missed, but her impact lives on.

She was one of the first in Dallas to effectively challenge the status quo related to barriers for minorities’ advancement. She did so always in a thoughtful and respectful manner, but she never faltered and never gave up.

Our city is a better place because she cared so much about our community.”

Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) released a statement on Callejo’s death.

“Callejo was a tireless advocate for Texas families and their right to vote. She was a champion for education, and Texas communities are stronger and better off because of her work,” Davis said.

Davis also sent out this tweet:

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings expressed his condolences by posting this message to Facebook, too:

“Deeply sadden to hear of the passing of Adelfa Callejo. My heart and prayer go out to her family and the entire Hispanic community.”

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