The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a law authored by Senator Alex Padilla (California). a previously segregated, “Mexican” school in west Texas to a historic site, the first of its kind.
“We have taken an important step to tell a more inclusive story of the rich but often painful history of our nation,” Padilla said after the vote on Thursday. “The history of Latin Americans is American history. Understanding our nation’s history of segregation and discrimination in places like the Blackwell School, which serves as an important touchstone of Mexican heritage in Martha, is an integral part of building a more inclusive and equitable future for our country. ”
Mexican Americans in the Southwest once attended segregated schools, but they did have since been abandoned or turned into offices and community centers. Blackwell’s school in Martha, about 180 miles southeast of El Paso, is one of the few surviving. Opened in 1909 as a three-room “Mexican school,” Blackwell expanded to half a dozen buildings, teaching more than 4,000 children before it closed in 1965.
Former students have teamed up to save the school, creating the nonprofit Blackwell School Alliance. They turned the remaining school building into a museum where they share memories, including how they were rowed by teachers for speaking Spanish. They lobbied for their alma mater to become a historic site, indicating segregation immortalized by the film “The Giant”, shot in Martha in 1956. They received support from the National Health Parks Assn. and Texas Sen. John Cornin.
“Texas has a rich and varied history, and it’s time for this piece of our history to be properly recognized,” Cornin said.
Unlike segregated schools for black students, segregated schools for Latin American students have not been designated national historic sites, which will make them part of the national park system and could bring growth in federal funding, personnel and tourism.
The Blackwell School’s National Historic Site Act has already passed the House of Representatives, but the Senate has made minor changes, so it will now return to the House for a final vote before sending it to President Biden.
“We rightly thought of the Blackwell School as an important local and personal history. However, the more research we did and the more people outside of Martha learned about it, the more we realized how critical American history is within these old clay walls, ”said Gretel Enk, president of the Blackwell School Alliance.
“We have worked for a long time to defend this special place, and now we have the opportunity and the duty to share these stories with a wider audience. Graduates deserve to have their stories known, and today that goal is one step closer to being achieved. ”