Family ties at Blackwell School
MARFA — The Blackwell School recently hosted special visitors with family ties to the school. On Saturday, May 6, two great-nieces of Jesse Blackwell made the trip to Marfa: Sonja Holt and her husband Joe of Austin, and Sheila Gresham of Henderson. Jesse Blackwell was the principal of the school from 1922 to 1947, as well as a teacher.
Jesse Blackwell came to Marfa from Rusk County, Texas, in 1922 to become Principal of what was then known as the Marfa Ward School with 120 students of Mexican descent. The school was named for him in 1940 after he oversaw the expansion from a one-room schoolhouse to a vibrant campus. When he retired in 1947, the school had grown to four buildings and a peak enrollment of 655 students in 1944. Mr. Blackwell died in 1957 and he and his first wife Maggie, as well as his son Jesse Lee and his wife, are buried in the Marfa Cemetery.
Mrs. Holt and Mrs. Gresham visited Marfa a number of years ago to see the Blackwell School. They returned hoping to see progress and were pleased to find that efforts to preserve the school continue. They took pride in seeing photos of Jesse Blackwell and learning more about his contributions to the school and the community. And they made a generous donation to the Blackwell School Alliance in honor of their mother, Annie Ray Blackwell Smith.
Other recent visitors include the children of Hector Valdes, Malva Cardenas of Del Rio and Rocky Valdes and his wife Diana of Midland. Hector Valdes was a coach and teacher at the Blackwell School and was a strong supporter of the Blackwell School Alliance. His family is continuing the tradition with their financial support and advocacy for our activities.
The Blackwell School served the Mexican American students of Marfa from 1889 until 1965 when Marfa schools achieved integration. Today the Blackwell School welcomes visitors from all over the country, including former students and their families. Visitors learn about this important piece of Marfa history through photographs, documents, and memorabilia collected from former students and community members.
Open hours are Saturday from 10am-4pm. Learn more at www.blackwellschool.org.