Press Release Jul 27, 2021

Parks Group Supports Bipartisan Legislation to Establish National Park Site Dedicated to Latino History

New legislation in the Senate and House would designate the Blackwell School National Historic Site, which would be one of the first national parks dedicated to protecting contemporary Latino history.

WASHINGTON, DC– Today, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Alex Padilla (D-California) introduced legislation which would designate the Blackwell School National Historic Site in Marfa, Texas. Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-TX 23) and Filemón Vela (D-TX-34) will re-introduce companion legislation in the House.

The National Parks Conservation Association is proud to join Texas nonprofit The Blackwell School Alliance in supporting this effort to ensure our National Park System tells the full picture of American history.

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.

A previous version of this legislation was introduced in the House in fall 2020 by Representative Vela and former Representative Will Hurd.

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

“The history of the Blackwell School in West Texas is multifaceted, containing stories of hardship and discrimination, but also ones of resilience and pure joy. Mexican American students were segregated from their white peers at “Mexican schools,” throughout the borderlands, including Blackwell. Despite the inherent unfairness of segregation, the Blackwell School became a meeting place and source of pride for the local Latino community.

“The National Parks Conservation Association is calling on Congress to protect Blackwell, one of the last “Mexican schools,” left standing. The National Park Service should preserve this place and its complex legacy so future generations can learn from it. We are proud to support bipartisan legislation to designate the Blackwell School National Historic Site, which would be one of the first national parks dedicated to protecting contemporary Latino stories.”

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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 1.6 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.

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