Generations of Latino children experienced segregated education in America. The Blackwell National Historic Site will shed light on this often-overlooked injustice in American history.
Today, The Blackwell School National Historic Site Act passed the House of Representatives, clearing the final Congressional hurdle and sending the bill to President Biden’s desk.
Once this landmark legislation is signed into law by the President, a half-acre school campus in West Texas will become one of the first national park sites dedicated to interpreting modern Latino history.
The National Parks Conservation Association and Blackwell School Alliance have worked for years with West Texas communities and advocates across the country to honor the stories of Mexican American students who were segregated from their white peers and sent to “Mexican schools,” across the American Southwest.
The proposed Blackwell School National Historic Site in Marfa, Texas would protect one of the last remaining “Mexican schools,” standing in good condition, ensuring the experiences and history here is never forgotten.
First introduced in 2020 by former Representatives Will Hurd and Filemón Vela of Texas, the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act has proved an example of rare bipartisan agreement amid challenging conversations about racism across the country. The final bill was championed by Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA).
NPCA has led the charge for new national park sites dedicated to diverse history, including Amache National Monument, Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Stonewall National Monument. Our national parks system must tell the full American story, which includes stories like the Blackwell School’s and beyond.
Statement by Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for The National Parks Conservation Association:
“The message that Mexican American students received when they stepped through the doors of the Blackwell School was simple: you are second-class citizens.
“They were given hand-me-down furniture and outdated textbooks. They were told to bury their native language and leave it behind. They were threatened with punishments if they disobeyed. The odds were stacked against them, but many Blackwell students persevered and even saw their school as a place of joy.
“Today, Congress stood up for those same students and sent a different message: you matter, and your powerful stories will not be brushed aside or forgotten. Instead, America’s greatest storyteller, the National Park Service, should teach visitors from around the world about this little-known chapter of our country’s history.
“The National Parks Conservation Association has urged the passage of this vital legislation at every turn. We are grateful to our leaders across the aisle for championing the little schoolhouse that will soon become Blackwell School National Historic Site, one of the first national park sites to honor Latino history.”
Statement of Mario Rivera, Blackwell School alumnus and founding Blackwell School Alliance Board Member:
“Having access to education was lifesaving for people in my hometown. Marfa was a poor, rural community: some of us missed weeks of school to pick cotton or moved back and forth for our families to follow work. Our teachers taught us, and sometimes disciplined us, too. We played sports, sang in the choir, and looked forward to our junior high graduation, just like they did at the other school across the railroad tracks.
“We experienced discrimination, but we also learned at the Blackwell School, and many young people went on to college and careers because of the education we received. Others of us stayed in Marfa, made a living, and are working to preserve the school that molded us in our youth.
“With the Blackwell School National Historic Site, we can commemorate how far we have come, while also remembering some of the wrongs that happened here in Marfa. The lessons taught here can help us understand discrimination and racism, and better equip us to fight back against those forces in the present.
“Our historic schoolhouse speaks to an experience of segregation that was common in schools and many aspects of daily life in Texas and other border areas, yet is now forgotten. The Blackwell School is as significant today for understanding American history as it was to us decades ago as we began our education.
Statement of Daniel O. Hernandez, Blackwell School Alliance Board Member:
“As a descendant of Blackwell alumni, it’s both exciting and incredibly humbling to be so deeply involved in efforts to preserve the Blackwell School and the collective memory it represents for students who experienced de facto segregation in Texas and across the country. This designation validates the experience of these students who lived through a difficult chapter in our nation’s history — an experience that deserves deeper study and greater awareness. I’m immensely proud that our nation’s newest venue for examining difficult history will reside in Marfa, Texas.”
About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.5 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org
About the Blackwell School Alliance: The Blackwell School Alliance and its partners preserve and restore historic resources associated with the Blackwell School; interpret and commemorate the era of segregated Hispanic education; and serve the Marfa, Texas, community culturally, historically, and educationally for the benefit of all Marfa residents and visitors, now and into the future. For more information, visit www.theblackwellschool.org.