Press Release Sep 11, 2020

Parks Group Champions Bill to Establish National Park Site Dedicated to Latino History

The Blackwell School houses the collective memory of the segregated school experience that existed everywhere across the Texas borderlands.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representative Will Hurd (R-TX-23) and Representative Filemón Vela (D-TX-34) introduced legislation which would designate the Blackwell School National Historic Site in Marfa, Texas. The National Parks Conservation Association proudly supports this effort to make our National Park System more diverse by protecting the history of the Blackwell School and telling this important and difficult story.

The remains of the Blackwell School are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for important and significant contributions to our shared American history, including the painful story of Texas’ formerly segregated education system. While African-American students in Texas were separated from white students by law, Texas school districts also enforced “de facto segregation,” maintaining separate elementary schools for Mexican American children. Once a sprawling campus for Mexican American students in Marfa, now all that remains of the Blackwell School is a three-room adobe schoolhouse – one of the last of such schools still standing in Texas.

The National Parks Conservation Association is deeply committed to ensuring that our national parks tell our full shared American history, which must include the diverse people and stories that represent a fair telling of the history of our nation. In the past, we have spearheaded campaigns to protect priceless cultural resources at Stonewall and Birmingham so future generations might understand the hardships and triumphs of our diverse history.

In 2013, the National Park Service released an American Latino Heritage Theme Study, which officially identified and contextualized the significant role Latinos have played in our nation’s history. Yet for all the massive contributions noted in this study, the National Park System contains only a few sites dedicated to contemporary Latino history, like César E. Chávez National Monument in California. Despite the injustice of segregation and some school practices, many alumni remember Blackwell as a symbol of Mexican American fortitude and success despite all odds.

The complex, painful, yet compelling legacy of the Blackwell School deserves preservation for generations to come as a unit of the National Park System.

Statement of Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association

“The unjust conditions imposed on Mexican American students at the Blackwell School in Texas should serve as a reminder of the institutionalized racism embedded in our nation’s history. But while the proposed Blackwell School National Historic Site would teach visitors about injustice, it would also teach them about resilience. Unfairly separated from their white peers and forbidden to speak Spanish, many Blackwell students rose above these conditions. They became star athletes, musicians in the marching band, and straight-A students. They were the pride of their community.

“Like so many stories in America, Blackwell’s is one of both pain and pride. And who better to tell that story than the National Park Service? From West Texas to towns across our land, Latino people have helped shape the story of America for centuries. It is long past time for a national park dedicated specifically to Latino history in Texas, and the unique cultural identity of the Blackwell School makes it a perfect candidate. The National Parks Conservation Association is proud to support this legislation to designate the Blackwell School National Historic Site.”

Statement of Daniel Hernandez, Advisor to the Blackwell School Alliance:

“More than a decade ago, former students made a pact to protect the Blackwell School they knew and loved. They wanted to remember the good times and to share pride in the education they received. Yet there is no way to talk about the Blackwell School without understanding the discrimination people of Mexican descent have long faced in West Texas: divided neighborhoods, whites-only businesses, and de facto segregation within our school system.

“Preserving the Blackwell School means saving the original 1909 schoolhouse as an authentic space for a much-needed conversation. The building houses the collective memory of the segregated school experience that existed everywhere across the borderlands. This place anchors our vision to engage in dialogue, education, connection, and healing — in Marfa and far beyond. Elevating the Blackwell School opens a portal between challenging history and the bigger, contemporary conversations around identity, power, and what it means to be an American.”

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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 nearly 1.4 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.