By SYLVIA LOBATO
CONEJOS/ALAMOSA — The nation’s earliest and longest-unheralded victory in the war against educational segregation took place in the San Luis Valley between 1912 and 1914 and the big winners were Alamosa’s children.
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 grew from grassroots 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, 10-year-old Miguel 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, 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.” Land for the school was purchased in 1909 to serve only “Mexicans.” 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 neaeest them.”
Learn more about the case and the upcoming commemoration statue