Monument to historic school desegregation suit to be celebrated

Courtesy Photo A happy boy and girls walk to their neighborhood school after a judge ruled that Hispanic Alamosa children should not walk to the school they were ordered to, but could go to the nearby schools, in this draft created by Artist Sonny Rivera. Installation ceremonies are planned for September.

The San Luis Valley is just coming into some well-deserved fame and a grand kickoff-fundraiser is being prepared for March 15.

Among the 120 persons attending will be another pair who made history: Associate Federal Judge Monica Marquez and her father, Retired Appellate Judge Jose DL Marquez, both of whom were the first Hispano justices to be appointed to the federal bench in their districts.

Along with food and drinks, the event will will feature a bronze preliminary unveiling of the monument by artist Sonny Rivera, a case history by Martin Gonzales, Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo by Karen Roybal, historical perspective by Ruben Donato, Gonzalo Guzman and Jarrod Hanson and a historical presentation researched, written and performed by Alamosa High School student William Lipke.

Until it was uncovered by some law students in 2019, the nation’s earliest and longest-unheralded victory in the war promoting educational segregation lay dormant. The trial took place in Conejos and Alamosa between 1912 and 1914 funding came from the deep grass roots and the big winners were the San Luis Valley’s children.
The children are still winning.

The Maestas case
In 1914, “The Denver Catholic Register” called the decision “historic,” noting that it “was the first time in the history of America that a court fight was made over an attempt to segregate Mexicans in school.” The suit stemmed from grassroots and parental concern for equal education of Alamosa’s children.

Lying unnoticed from 1914 to 2016 and labeled Francisco Maestas et al vs. George H. Shone et al, the suit dates back to 1912 when Alamosa was still part of Conejos County, 11-year-old Miguel Antonio Maestas was forced to walk seven blocks from his home on the north end of Ross Ave. to the “Mexican” school building at the intersection of Ninth and Ross. The McKinney directory listed the “Mexican Preparatory School” as being at Ninth and Ross. There was no telephone number.
On Sept. 2, 1913, Francisco went to the Superintendent of Schools and asked to enroll his son. The request was refused and Maestas was told he had to enroll his son in the “Mexican School despite the fact that it was less than four blocks from Central Elementary School.” Land for the school was purchased in 1909 to serve only “Mexicans.” With support from his neighbors and the parish priest, Maestas filed suit and was soon joined by fellow Hispanics and the Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that the area had long been part of the United States and the persons involved were born here, the reference was made to “Mexican” children and “American” families.

After a lengthy trial, District Court Judge Charles Holbrook determined that the plaintiffs had made a sufficient case for admittance of the students and issued an order to the school board and superintendent to admit the children to the public school most convenient to their homes. Holbrook stated that “in the opinion of the court … the only way to destroy this feeling of discontent and bitterness which has recently grown up, is to allow all children so prepared, to attend the school nearest them.”

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