At a time when conservatives are campaigning against teaching about systemic racism in the United States, the Texas Senate has moved to preserve evidence of it.
According to a bill passed by the Senate on a voice vote last week, the Blackwell School in Marfa, where Mexican American children were educated separately from white children, would become a national historic site and part of the National Park System of the National Park Service.
The school was built in 1909 to educate Hispanic students. There, Mexican American and Mexican children were educated until the ninth grade.
On campus, children were forced to speak only English. According to the text of a state historical landmark posted in Marfa, the school held a mock funeral ceremony on the grounds, where slips of paper with Spanish words written on them were buried.
“Although no state law required separate schools for Hispanic students, Texas school districts maintained the practice of de facto segregation through the mid-twentieth century,” according to a Texas Historical Commission report on the school.
Although the school is on the National Register of Historic Places, its proposed designation as a national historic landmark would make it one of only a few national park sites in the United States commemorating Latino history and culture. The school is located in Marfa, a West Texas town known for housing the McDonald Observatory, an astronomical observatory run by the University of Texas at Austin, as well as being the location of the classic film “Giant.”
According to its website, the Blackwell School Alliance has worked for 15 years to preserve the school’s oral history and buildings.
According to the 2020 census, the proportion of Texans who are Hispanic is nearly equal to that of white people who are not Hispanic or Latino. Hispanics accounted for nearly half of the state’s growth over the last decade.
Conservative and far-right organizations and lawmakers are fighting to limit the study of race and ethnic studies in public schools, with some of the opposition focusing on teaching the existence of systemic or institutional racism.
Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) sponsored the bill in the Senate. In December, the House approved a similar bill sponsored by Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, by a vote of 417-8. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas was among the eight Republicans who voted “no.”
“Texas has a rich and diverse history, and it’s time for this piece of our story to receive proper recognition,” Cornyn said in a news release following the vote.
“We must ensure that this building stands for generations to come, and we must educate Americans of all backgrounds about the progress we’ve made as a country,” he said.
“Our national park system has a long way to go when it comes to adequately preserving Latino history,” Padilla said in a statement to NBC News. “Understanding our nation’s history of segregation and discrimination toward Latinos in places like the Blackwell School is integral to building a more just future in America.”
Because the Senate bill corrects a map of the site in the House version, the House would have to vote on a corrected version with no changes in order for the legislation to be sent to President Joe Biden for signature.