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Bill making segregated Texas school a national historic site heads to president's desk

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 will soon become a national historic site. 

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. It passed through the House and now heads to President Joe Biden's desk. 

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

After being approved by the Senate, the bill now heads to the House for a final vote and then to the desk of President Joe Biden.

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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