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Segregated Texas school officially designated as a national historic site

Blackwell Elementary in West Texas was built in 1909 and was only attended by Mexican American children.

MARFA, Texas — Note: The video above is from a report on the Blackwell school on Nov. 23, 2021.

An elementary school in West Texas that was segregated and only attended by Mexican American children has been designated as a National Historic Site and a part of the National Park System. 

Former students at Blackwell Elementary have been working to give the school national recognition in order to educate the public about what happened there.

The U.S. Senate passed the Blackwell School National Historic Act, which would name the three-room school in Marfa, Texas as a national site. The president signed the act on Oct. 17, 2022. The designation will permanently protect the site. 

“As a nation, we must face the wrongs of our past in order to build a more just and equitable future. The ugliness of the segregation era had many impacts that we have failed as a nation to adequately acknowledge,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a press release. “This new designation will help us tell a truer American story, and ensure this important and painful chapter in our nation’s history is preserved and remembered for the generations to come.” 

According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), it would be one of the first national park sites to commemorate Latino history.

“The National Park Service will continue working closely with key stakeholders dedicated to the preservation of Blackwell School, and those directly impacted by the de facto segregation of Mexican Americans during the early 1900s, to preserve and interpret this significant historic site to the public," said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. 

The Blackwell school was built in 1909 and named after its principal, Jesse Blackwell.

WFAA spoke to some of its former students last year. They talked about the racism and segregation they experienced at the school and city.

"In society, you learned at a young age to stay far away where you are not wanted," said Mario Rivera, who went to Blackwell in the 1950s.

"That's where I learned about racism, right here in Marfa," said former student Jessi Silva.

RELATED: 'We'd get in trouble for speaking Spanish': Former students of a segregated Texas school recall the racism they faced and the good times they shared

Silva told WFAA about a specific day in which the school had a "funeral" for the Spanish language. He said the students wrote "I will never speak Spanish again" on a piece of paper and put it in a little coffin.

"They got that little box, they put it in the earth and they covered it up, so it was a mock funeral," Silva said. "From then on, anyone speaking Spanish would get punished."

A group known as the Blackwell School Alliance is working to preserve the school's history. The former students have been pushing Congress for the national historic site recognition.

The Blackwell School National Historic Act was led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA), along with Reps. Tony Gonzales (TX-23) and Filemon Vela (TX-34), according to the NPCA.

"It not only tells the story of segregated education, but it’s also a door into all the ways Hispanic, Latino people in America - specifically Mexican Americans here in Texas - had been discriminated against, had been segregated for as long as this has been America,” Gretel Enck, president of the Blackwell School Alliance, told WFAA.

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