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Key land transfer deal finalized for new Blackwell School National Historic Site

blackwell-2022-3
Carlos Morales
/
Marfa Public Radio
The Blackwell School in Marfa, pictured in 2022.

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Marfa Independent School District board members on Monday finalized a deal to transfer the district’s ownership of the historic Blackwell School to the National Park Service, a key step in plans to establish a new national historic site that will tell the story of Mexican American school segregation in the 20th century.

Under the deal, the district will donate the historic schoolhouse and the surrounding property directly to the park service, and a nonprofit group that raises money for national parks will donate about $530,000 to the district in return.

The land transfer documents should be finalized within a few days, school officials said, but it could be a few weeks before the national historic site is formally established.

“We’re still not a national park until the Secretary of the Interior approves the acquisition of this,” said David Larson, superintendent of the nearby Fort Davis National Historic Site, who is helping lead the planning for the new site.

“That could be within a month or so, maybe longer, maybe shorter,” he said.

The National Park Service has meanwhile launched an effort to gather public input on a “foundation document” for the new site, which will “provide underlying guidance for future planning and management decisions,” the agency said.

National Park Service representatives explained the historic site planning process at a public meeting in Marfa on June 25, 2024.
Carlos Morales
/
Marfa Public Radio
National Park Service representatives explained the historic site planning process at a public meeting in Marfa on June 25, 2024.

The park service is taking public comments on the foundation document online and in writing through July 12.

Larson said in addition to shining a light on the often undertold history of how school segregation played out in Mexican American communities across the Southwest, the new historic site could generate new tourism, business and historical research opportunities as well.

“This happened in a lot of other communities, so there’ll also be a lot of great opportunities for academic research,” he said.

As the Big Bend Sentinel has reported, the lengthy process to transfer the school district’s ownership of the site had stirred frustration among some locals in recent weeks, but Blackwell representatives on Monday praised school board members for seeing the process through.

“The Mexican American educational experience is such an important yet undertold story that must be preserved and shared, and we are now on track to do so,” Martha Stafford, a community coordinator working on the project for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said at Monday’s school board meeting.

Marfa ISD school board members and Blackwell School representatives pose for a photo after the signing of land transfer documents on June 24, 2024.
Travis Bubenik
/
Marfa Public Radio
Marfa ISD school board members and Blackwell School representatives pose for a photo after the signing of land transfer documents on June 24, 2024.

Jessi Silva, a Blackwell School alum who has worked for years alongside other locals and alumni to preserve the school’s history, said she hopes people with ties to the school will let their voices be heard as part of the historic site planning process.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up,” she said. “Any little thing that you can say or do can be a lot of help.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.