On October 17, President Joe Biden designated a half-acre school campus into the National Park System. The Blackwell School National Historic Site Act was signed into law, “protecting one of the first national park sites dedicated to telling modern Latino history,” per the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
What is the Blackwell School? According to NPR, in 1909, the small schoolhouse was built in Marfa, Texas, a small town on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Blackwell School was just one of many segregated schools in Texas where Mexican American children were taught away from their white peers despite no legislation requiring it.
“In communities across the Southwest, school districts once enforced ‘de facto segregation,’ forcing Mexican American children to attend separate schools from their white peers. Mexican American children were given outdated textbooks and shoddy equipment and in many cases were punished for speaking in their native language,” the NPCA stated in a press release.
“At the Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas, teachers instructed students to write ‘Mr. Spanish,’ on slips of paper, and then held a mock funeral for the Spanish language, burying a coffin with the slips on the school’s campus,” the statement continued.
The Blackwell school closed in 1965, and the new designation as a national park will help give a complete history of the students who attended the school to ensure “the experiences and history” of the school is never forgotten.
“It is our solemn responsibility as caretakers of America’s national treasures to tell the whole story of our nation’s heritage for the benefit of present and future generations,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said.
Gretel Enck, President of the Blackwell School Alliance, who worked closely with officials to preserve this site, said this designation is a “testament” to the “resilience of the Mexican American communities in our country’s borderlands… The Blackwell School belongs as a national park site because Mexican Americans belong here in our country.”
Located in Marfa, Texas, the Blackwell School National Historic Site is just under three hours away from another National Park, Big Bend National Park. It’s also home to the iconic and mysterious Marfa Lights observed near U.S. Route 67.
“The students of Blackwell committed themselves to preserving their school so future generations could learn from the complex history contained behind its century-old adobe walls. They painstakingly cataloged their fond memories of the playground, marching band and their beloved teachers, as well as the darker ones, like being paddled for speaking their native language. They joined national park advocates across the country in calling on Congress to designate their school a national historic site and protect it for good, so that America could remember and learn from this chapter of our history,” Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement on the park’s designation.
For more information, visit National Parks Conservation Association.
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