Blackwell School Poised to Become One of the First National Park Sites Dedicated to Modern Latino History

NPCA Press Release, May 19, 2022

The Blackwell National Historic Site will soon shed light on an often-overlooked injustice in American history and will be an important step forward for including Latino stories at our parks.

Mrs. Bentley’s class at Blackwell in 1956. Photo Courtesy of The Blackwell School Alliance    

Today, the U.S. Senate passed The Blackwell School National Historic Site Act, which would designate a half-acre school campus in West Texas as one of the first national park sites dedicated to Latino history. The Senate made minor changes to the bill, so it will now go back to the House of Representatives for a vote, and the last step remaining is for President Biden to sign it into law.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Blackwell School Alliance are leading a grassroots campaign for a park that will honor the stories of Mexican American students and their families during this nationally significant chapter of history.

Led by Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23) and Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) and Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act is a historic bipartisan agreement amid challenging conversations about race across the country.

National Register Listing Photo of School Children

Until the mid-1900s, school systems across the American Southwest segregated Mexican American students from white peers, sending Mexican Americans to separate schools with fewer resources. Nestled in the borderlands town of Marfa, Texas, the Blackwell School is one of the last remaining “Mexican schools,” standing in good condition, where the so-called “separate but equal,” doctrine applied.

Many years after the school closed following integration, a group of Blackwell alumni formed the nonprofit Blackwell School Alliance and saved the property from possible destruction down the line.

NPCA has long been a leader in campaigns to designate national park sites dedicated to diverse history, including the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Stonewall National Monument. At NPCA, we believe we must expand our national parks system to tell the full American story, which includes stories like the Blackwell School’s and beyond.

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

“There are so many chapters of American history that have gone unseen, unheard, and unacknowledged. Despite the difficult history connected to the Blackwell School, today is a day of joy and celebration that these students’ stories will soon be told by our country’s greatest storytellers at the National Park Service. The students of Blackwell deserve no less.

“Despite the enormous impact Latino people have had on our country and continue to have today, their stories are underrepresented in our national parks. The Blackwell National Historic Site will soon shed light on an often-overlooked injustice in American history and will be an important step forward for including Latino stories at our parks.

“The National Parks Conservation Association stands with the students of Blackwell and we are proud of the years of teamwork that have led to today’s unanimous consent Senate passage. We are grateful to Senator John Cornyn, Senator Alex Padilla, Representative Tony Gonzales, and members of Congress across the country for recognizing that the unique history at this little one-room schoolhouse deserves protection in perpetuity.”

Statement of Gretel Enck, President of the Blackwell School Alliance:

We used to think of the Blackwell School, rightly, as an important local and personal story. Yet the more research we did and the more people outside Marfa learned about it, the more we came to understand how much critical American history is represented inside these old adobe walls. We have worked a long time to advocate for this special place, and now we have the opportunity, and the obligation, to share these stories with a wider audience. Alumni deserve to have their stories known, and today that goal is one step closer to achieved.

“An even bigger goal is that the success of the Blackwell School will open the door for other untold American Hispanic and Latino histories to gain attention and resources. The National Park Service— through its Historic Sites, Historic Landmarks Program, and Heritage Areas — provides unparalleled leadership in telling the complicated history of our country. We look forward to final House passage and the President’s signature.”

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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.