Blackwell School National Historic Site Act
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 4706, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE BLACKWELL SCHOOL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE IN MARFA, TEXAS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
OCTOBER 14, 2021
Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on H.R. 4706 to establish the Blackwell School National Historic Site in Marfa, Texas, and for other purposes.
H.R. 4706 would establish Blackwell School National Historic Site as a unit of the National Park System when the Secretary of the Interior enters into a written agreement with the Marfa Unified School District for donation or co-management of the site and acquires sufficient lands within the boundaries of the national historic site to constitute a manageable unit. The NPS would be required to develop a management plan for the site no later than 3 years after the date on which funds are first made available for this purpose. The bill also directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with the Blackwell School Alliance (and other partners) for interpretive and educational programming, technical assistance, and rehabilitation for the site.
Through the mid-twentieth century, segregation of school children in Texas was a common practice, although Texas had no official state law mandating this segregation. The Blackwell School was the only public educational institution for Hispanic children in Marfa, Texas, from 1909 to 1965. Marfa retains a rich Hispanic cultural presence, and the Blackwell School remains an important tangible link for the community as well as a historical reminder of our nation’s segregated past. The Blackwell School is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its local historical significance.
The National Park Service (NPS) deeply understands that education is important to a democratic society and recognizes the important contribution to America’s story that is represented by places, such as the Blackwell School, where Hispanic students were segregated for their education. The NPS shares similar chapters in our nation’s history at other locations, including Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and Little Rock High Central High School National Historic Site. Education is one of the chapters in America’s story that is underrepresented in the National Park System. Establishing a unit of the National Park System could be one way to preserve and interpret the resources and related stories of Blackwell School.
The NPS has not had the opportunity to evaluate the Blackwell School as a potential unit of the National Park System. Amending the bill to provide for a special resource study of the Blackwell School, rather than the establishment of a new unit, would enable the NPS to better understand this story in the national context and work with the public, the local community, and other stakeholders to gather information regarding both the school’s history as well as the historic preservation and management needs of the site. We would be happy to provide suggested language for such an amendment. If the Committee decides to move forward on this bill without a study, the Department would appreciate the opportunity to provide technical amendments to the bill.
Chairman Neguse, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.