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.”


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


Monticello Florida Opera House

This beautifully restored opera house, once home to Vaudeville, was built in 1890. The work on the building has been a labor of love–one that’s ongoing. Since I’ve been involved in historic preservation, I highly approve of those who have the vision and stamina to restore old buildings and keep them vibrant and in use in today’s world. A big plus for me is the Monticello Opera House’s support of local and regional theater.

If I still lived in North Florida, I would be an active member of this group, involved in fundraising and publicity, and grant writing.  They still need to focus a bit more on ephemera, old playbills, and lists of performers to help put the building’s significance into perspective. Such work would probably require a humanities grant and a devoted intern or two for Florida State University.

The opera house is on the National Register under the name “Perkins Opera House.” The paperwork, filed in 1971, is disappointing because, unlike more recent applications, it doesn’t include “statements of significance” which would have listed historical and architectural information. 

Here’s their current offering, one with a great poster:


Malcolm R. Campbell, who writes magical realism novels set in the Florida Panhandle, has  also worked as a grant writer for nonprofit organizations, including a successful National Register application.

The Falling Down Smokehouse Blues

That old smokehouse been fallin’ down,
Yes, that old smokehouse’s fallin’ down,
Seen wind and rain, babies born, babies grown,
Seen cotton, corn, and okra sown,
While roof and siding been fallin’ down.

When my wife and I had a house built on the site of her family’s original homestead, she became the 5th generation to live on property that’s been in the family since the 1880s. We moved here in January and found the site none the worse for wear for all the trucks, people, dumpster and piles of building materials that have been coming and going since last June.

We told the builder not to run over, back into, damage, knock down or even dent the old tractor garage, well house, and smokehouse. Along with the property’s one hundred year old trees, these remaining outbuildings represented the land’s history and the continuity of family over the years.

Several years ago, a tornado tore out one of the more ancient trees and, in the process, damaged the well house roof and the smokehouse. Now they have been repaired. We’re trying to stabilize everything old and restore a sense of “home” to this patch of ground, and that includes the two rose bushes we planted where my wife’s grandmother once had two rose bushes, and keeping watch over day lilies that bloomed this spring after spreading while people came and went.

Here are two BEFORE pictures:


Here are the two AFTER pictures showing the new door, two new corner posts, new siding and a new roof:

smokehouseblogBMoving to this place has been–and continues to be–an adventure. We need more trees and shrubs in the yard, some fencing, a closer look at the well to see if we can get water from it again, and we need to finish unpacking things inside the house.

But today, that old smokehouse no longer has the blues.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”


The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge

I last drove my decrepit 1954 Chevy over the historic Pratt-truss bridge on Bellamy Bridge Road in Jackson County, Florida in 1962. I grew up in Tallahassee about 85 miles away via U.S. Highway 90 and the Florida Caverns State Park on the Chipola River in nearby Marianna was a favorite day trip of mine. While researching another story for my evolving series of Florida short stories, I focused on the old bridge because ever since the mid-1830s, it has supposedly been haunted.

Fortunately, information about the legend can be found in on several websites, the best being one maintained by Florida author and historian Dale Cox. Cox included the Bellamy Bridge story in Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts.

The bridge, which can be viewed by those on Chipola River paddle trips, has otherwise been inaccessible for years ever since traffic over the river shifted to a new bridge and the portion of the road leading to the old one was abandoned. As a preservationist, I hated seeing this historic old bridge not being conserved and maintained or made accessible to those who want to look at one of the few remaining iron bridges of its type in the State of Florida. For me, the bridge is a wonderful location setting for a short story as well as a memory from childhood years.

While I was working on this short story, Dale Cox happened to make a proposal to Jackson County that a privately funded walking trail through public land be created with appropriate signs and markers that would allow people to hike into the fabulous floodplain swamp and river environment and see the bridge. The project appears to have the support of the county and, with a little luck and a lot of hard work from Dale Cox and other volunteers, the trail may soon become a reality.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that hikers will see any ghosts. In fact, insofar as the legend is concerned, it may not match the historical record of one Elizabeth Jane Bellamy who has purportedly been haunting the area for 178 years. My short story is named Cora because that just might be the name of the actual ghost. But leaving behind stories and storytelling for now, I’m happy to see that the bridge may become accessible and that many others will enjoy a historic structure that I took for granted when I drove my old car over its wood planks (long gone now) when I was in high school.

If you live in the Florida Panhandle and/or like old bridges and floodplain swamps filled with chinkapin and cypress, you can follow the Historic Bellamy Bridge project here on Facebook.


Malcolm R. Campbell, who grew up in the Florida Panhandle, is the author of four novels, including the contemporary fantasies “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande.”

Contemporary fantasy for your Kindle.

Hotels in the National Parks – a sternly worded memo

Why we’re out there – NPS Photo

When many of today’s historic hotels in the National Parks first opened, America was a different kind of place, so people appreciated “rustic” and didn’t expect to have all the comforts of the city out in the woods because, well, if they preferred the comforts of the city they would stay in the city.

From time to time, I complain about the inconsiderate people who ruin camping experiences for everyone else by “serenading” the woods with loud music, loud TV sets, video game racket, and various other hobbies that have no place in a wilderness setting. Frankly, I’m there to get away from all that. Those who are addicted to racket can (a) wear earphones or (b) go away.

The same Internet that makes it possible for me to say a few kind words about old hotels gives others an opportunity to say nasty things about those hotels even though old buildings in a restricted environment can’t (and shouldn’t) compete with one’s favorite, modern resort. But, I can’t help but wonder why people complain about the very things they should have expected to find.

People, The Hotels are Really Old

I wonder why we can’t tolerate “rustic” these days as good sports rather than griping on line about things that are, quite frankly, to be expected in a hotel built 100 years ago in an environment that isn’t kind to structures and in a place that cannot be disturbed by the kinds of “improvements” we take for granted in big city hotels that operate year-around with full access to the best transportation, water, power, DSL and everything else anyone could possibly ask for in a hotel.

Old hotels are likely to have smaller rooms, older-style bathrooms, thinner walls, floors/ceilings that creak and groan, balcony doors and windows that might rattle in the wind, no television or hotel-wide WiFi or DSL. We used to call this kind of thing charming because going to a National Park was traditionally considered “roughing it” even if you didn’t sleep in a tent. Light sleepers can take white noise machines. WiFi addicts can: (a) find the designated WiFI areas (if any), (b) consider entering a 12-step program before staying in a historic hotel so that the lack of instant access to the world outside the park won’t be more important than enjoying what is there, (c) Go away.

When staying in a National Register listed hotel, it’s good to remember that preservation of historic structures always trumps restoration, much less renovation.  Buildings are updated to comply with codes. But updating them because people want modern bathrooms, TV sets in rooms with less insulation between rooms, and a five-star, New York City experience in a wilderness setting is not only destructive to the historic building, but down right lousy management. In the preservation business, we often talk about Paul Bunyan’s axe. If you keep using it, you have to tolerate its fragility and construction and chop accordingly; otherwise, when you replace the handle one year and replace the axe head another year, it might look like Paul Bunyan’s axe. But it isn’t. It’s now a replica and no longer a historical treasure.

You Don’t Expect Granny to Dance Like a Teenager

I don’t know, maybe fewer people are tolerating granny these days because she’s old and acts her age and cannot do this or that with the same efficiency and style as a much younger person. Yes, I know, science will probably figure out how to keep replacing granny’s parts so that one day granny will be a teenager again. Of course, she won’t be granny any more either.

Old buildings also act their age, especially when their age=history. We cannot have it both ways. If we want to stay in a historic hotel, then we need to love it for what it is rather than taking away all of its history by modernizing the original building away over time with “improvements.”

In many ways, the National Park Service is the ultimate steward of these properties, because NPS  controls what can be changed and what cannot, how the hotel must function within a pristine environment, and even how much you pay for a room. Suffice it to say, the hotels are old, expensive to maintain and difficult to operate.

We’re there for nature, not pampering; so it would be nice, I think, for some constructive reviews on sites like TripAdvisor rather than listing “faults” that really are the realities of rustic accommodations in century-old hotels.


For More Information

The value of parks

While serving as the chairman of my town’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), I heard more than my share of gripes about the taxpayer costs of city budget items that were often labeled as “fluff” during difficult economic times. City parks, historic districts, entry-road signs, green space and related tree canopy programs,  and National Register of Historic Places districts were on most people’s hit lists.

The City Parks Alliance, for example, says on its home page that “Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital, but not fully appreciated or understood role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America’s urban areas and its residents.” This is a good place to start. But, when taxes, city/federal budgets and the not-so-deep pockets of residents come together, it helps to have some dollar values to assign to the catch phrases.

Even though my love of parks includes environmental concerns, habitat protection, fresh air and recreation, such “fuzzy aesthetics” as these don’t wash during a confrontational city council budget meeting. Looking at the skimpy budgetary support of our National Parks system coming out of Washington, things that are good to do for their own sake don’t get much attention in Congress either.

Economic Value  – real estate, jobs, tourism

Locally, the HPC tried to stress the economic value of city parks, a value that typically exceeded the cost of maintaining the parks when viewed separately from recreational programs. In promoting economic returns, we were on the same page as the Chamber of Commerce, a group that knows the importance of such things as parks, green space, and historic preservation to corporations and individuals contemplating a move to a new city.

Historic districts, like museums and other cultural tourism attractions not only attract people (who make purchases throughout a city), but also create a level of interest that—according to studies—is higher than other vacation/business travel. While national parks and other wilderness areas with a lot to see tend to draw people who stay longer, the same is true for sites and attractions focusing on culture and history. Visitors to such sites stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.

Likewise, many studies have shown that the value of houses near city parks tends to be higher than the value of similar homes in other neighborhoods. While it’s easy to point fingers at the costs of maintaining a city park, their impact on real estate values is often overlooked when budgets and taxes are under scrutiny.

While city parks rated as excellent can increase the property values of nearby homes as much as 15%, the Trust for Public Land, in “Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System” (PDF link) takes a more conservative approach to account for those parks rated as problematic: “Once determined, the total assessed value of properties near parks is multiplied by 5 percent and then by the tax rate, yielding the increase in tax dollars attributable to park proximity.”

Regional Impact of a National Park

Last month, Glacier National Park released information that demonstrates the economic importance of a major tourist attraction. According to an NPS report for 2010, two million visitors came to the park, spending $10 million and supporting 1,695 local jobs.

“Glacier National Park has historically been an economic driver in the state,” said Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright. “This report shows the value that the many goods and services provided by local businesses are to the park visitor, as well as employment opportunities for the area.” Click on economic benefits here to download the report itself.

Personally, the value of parks to me cannot be expressed in economic terms. Yet I’m realistic enough to know that people coping with stretched-to-the-limit household budgets need to see some real dollar values attached to local and national governmental expenses before they “buy in” to the value of parks.

The Trust of Public Land, City Parks Alliance, National Park Service, and your state’s Department of Natural Resources are good places to track down information that may help win over the homeowner next door who sees nothing  but red in city, state and national green spaces.

This free 48-page PDF about Glacier’s history, personalities, facilities, plants and animals can be downloaded from the Vanilla Heart Publishing page at Payloadz.

Tracking Montana’s History

I recently received a letter from the Montana Historical Society reminding me that my membership renewal date was coming up in June. I’ve been a member for over twenty years, and though I’ve never once set foot inside the Society’s museum and library at 225 N. Roberts Street in Helena, I was happy to renew.

By far, the best magazine that arrives in my mailbox four times a year is the Society’s award-winning, thoroughly researched Montana the Magazine of Western History. As it celebrates its 60th year, the magazine recently one another national award, the Westerners International Coke Wood Award for Monographs and Articles. The magazine has a free, searchable index on the Society’s web site.

In his renewal letter, Mike Cooney, the MHS interim director, noted that the society “provides free public access to over 50,000 books, 455,000 historical monographs, 8,000 maps, 2000 oral history reviews and more. Our education and outreach program has grown, reaching over 5,000 students from over 53 communities and thousands of adults throughout Montana.”

In addition to Montana the Magazine of Western History, MHS also helps members who live outside the state. Using my member’s research question benefit, I had historical questions tracked down and answered for my novels The Sun Singer and Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey and for my article “Bears, Where They Fought,” about Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley that appears in Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Nature’s Gifts Anthology.

The Society’s professional, yet accessible approach, to Montana History was recently validated by its re-accreditation by the American Association of Museums (AAM). Re-accreditation is an intensive, two-year process that occurs every 15 years. According to the MHS newsletter Society Star, “There are an estimated 17,500 museums in the nation and only 777 are currently accredited by the AAM.” As a former museum manager and a museum grant writer, I know just how difficult and exacting the AAM standards are.

While AAM standards are designed to fit a wide variety of museums and collections, all museums must successfuly answer two core questions:

  • How well does the museum achieve its stated mission and goals?
  • How well does the museum’s performance meet standards and best practices, as they are generally understood in the field, appropriate to its circumstances?

The success of the MHS and its research, collections policy, artifacts conservatorship, programs, publications, historic properties and its National Register sign program are a dynamic testament to just how well the Society continues to answer those core questions.

As for me, I’ve saved every issue of the magazine since my membership began: for Montana, they are gospel.

Montana teachers will find help on the Montana: Stories of the Land site. You may also like Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman and the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program sites.

Malcolm R. Campbell

SS United States Faces Demolition

from the SS United States Conservancy:

SS United StatesThe SS United States Conservancy has learned that America’s national flagship, the SS United States, may soon be destroyed. The ship’s current owners, Genting Hong Kong (formerly Star Cruises Limited), through its subsidiary, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), are currently collecting bids from scrappers.

The SS United States was a powerful Cold War weapon disguised as a luxury liner. This great passenger ship transported many Americans to and from Europe and other destinations between 1952 and 1969. She carried four U.S. presidents and countless military, diplomatic, and business leaders, celebrities and artists, and foreign heads of state, not to mention thousands of ordinary citizens and immigrants. She still holds the world’s speed record, set on her maiden voyage in 1952.

The ship’s current owners listed the vessel for sale in February, 2009. While NCL graciously offered the Conservancy first right of refusal on the vessel’s sale, the Conservancy has not been in a financial position to purchase the ship outright. However, the Conservancy has been working diligently to lay the groundwork for a public-private partnership to save and sustain the ship for generations to come.

The Conservancy understands that Genting and NCL are reluctant to continue covering the significant costs associated with maintaining the vessel in its current berth in Philadelphia and appreciates the good care the vessel has received since its purchase in 2003 with the stated intention of returning the ship to seagoing service. The Conservancy has maintained a positive working relationship with NCL over the past seven years and looks forward to ongoing collaboration during this critical period.

The Conservancy has begun discussions with NCL with the intent of covering some of the fees associated with maintaining the ship in Philadelphia so it can finalize plans for repurposing the ship as a stationary attraction at a large metropolitan waterfront.

“This is both a patriotic and a practical effort,” said Conservancy Executive Director Dan McSweeney, whose father emigrated from Scotland to America to serve as a crewmember aboard the vessel. “We’re absolutely committed to saving one of the most important symbols of America in the 20th century, but we’re also talking about creating hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs when this ship is refurbished and becomes a stationary attraction in a large U.S. city. We must save this irreplaceable American icon and continue the process of establishing a public-private partnership to re-purpose her.”

The Conservancy’s new national campaign is titled “Save Our Ship” (SOS) and offers a “Plank Owner” certificate for tax-deductible donations of at least $25 via its new donor website:


Each purchase benefits Glacier National Park

Why should my town look like every other town?

I’ve always disliked homogenized milk. There’s no cream on top. Dwight Young, in Preservation Magazine, laments the loss of distinctive and historic local names, stores, cafes, and hotels as chains sweep through homogenizing the country so that “everyplace gradually turns into anyplace.” The disappearance of local cream is a great loss.

In his article “Name Dropping” in the magazine’s September/October issue, Young speaks of the “homegrown flavor” that’s now long gone from Plainview, Texas where he grew up. He misses Bryan’s Food and West’s Pharmacy. When I return to Tallahassee, Florida where I grew up, I no longer find the Florida Theater or Leon Federal Savings & Loan or Duval’s IGA Grocery. While I accept change as a constant, I wonder if we’re often in too much of a hurry to replace the old with the new.

Sure, we can be part of what “everyone’s talking about” online when McDonald’s replaces the “Seven Steers” with its comforting, you-know-what-you’re-getting food no matter where you are. But the food really isn’t better, is it? Goodness knows, the streamlined, cookie-cutter architecture from everywhere else really isn’t the real Plainview or the real Tallahassee.

Towns with pro-active historic preservation commissions have, at least, been able to mandate that when the chains move in, they must move in to local architecture. No, it’s usually not the adaptive re-use of an old building, but the new that is built is made to appropriately fit in with the old that remains.

Anything else is, as Atlanta’s late historian Franklin Garrett often said, “municipal vandalism.” He ought to know, for Atlanta is famous for vandalizing its heritage.

Young is, I think, realistic when he writes that “we can’t resurrect all the long-gone institutions we once knew, but we can certainly cherish the ones that are left. Heeding the familiar admonition to ‘buy local’ is good for the soul as well as the economy.” To keep the cream, you might have to pay a bit more, but a greater percentage of the dollars you spend stays in town and helps local businessmen and local families.

And that’s better in so many ways than having to say goodbye to the Florida Theater, Rich’s Department Store and West’s Pharmacy.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the new comedy thriller “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” Read a free sample from the Vanilla Heart Publishing sampler at Smashwords.