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'Our Moral Compass:' Remembering Adelfa Callejo, Dallas Civil Rights Leader

Mourners filled Dallas' Latino Cultural Center and talked about Adelfa Botello Callejo for hours.

Each ended the same way…

“Adelante con Adelfa … Adelante con Adelfa … Adelante con Adelfa.”

That’s "moving forward with Adelfa."

Marcos Ronquillo was Callejo's law partner.

“Adelfa was our moral compass,” he said. “She was our true north, and she was our advocate and trailblazer.”

Callejo, the longtime Dallas civil rights activist and attorney, died Saturday at 90 from a brain tumor. A memorial mass will be held Thursday morning at Cathedral Guadalupe in downtown Dallas.

At Tuesday night's tribute, speaker after speaker described a selfless, tireless woman who never had children of her own. Instead, she considered all of her acquaintances family.

Jeri-Ann Mullaley, a teacher for the Dallas ISD, is Callejo’s niece. She told the audience her aunt was a true believer in education because she had perfect attendance.

“Not one day did she miss, nor was she tardy,” Mullaley said. “She had that record because she loved going to school. She was eager to learn and had a thirst for knowledge.”

And she passed that on as a mentor to future lawyers. Community leaders said she was a teacher to everyone she met, so much so that last year, the Dallas school district named an elementary school in Callejo’s honor.

She was an advocate for many causes, including women’s rights, voting rights, and veterans' rights. Antonio Gil Morales is with a Fort Worth veteran’s family group called American GI Forum of the United States.

“Mexican-American veterans, coming back from World War II, were highly discriminated against,” he said. “And not allowed into a lot of the facilities. She knew that we paid a high price for that freedom.”

Callejo also influenced A.C. Gonzalez, the new Dallas city manager. He remembers advice she gave him on his first visit with her.

“Young man, many have fought hard to make sure you have the opportunity you now have," he recalled her telling him. "I want no favors for myself, but what I want is for you to keep in mind always. Never forget from where you came and serve the community accordingly.”

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.