- Bullion Plaza School -- Hispanic Heritage Month -- National Register of Historic Places Official Website--Part of the National Park Service
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Bullion Plaza School

National Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15-October 15, 2008

Exterior shots of the Bullion Plaza School
Photo courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

The Bullion Plaza School in Gila County, in the town of Miami, Arizona, is historically important for its association with the history of Mexican Americans and school segregation in Arizona. The Bullion Plaza School is a two-story, reinforced concrete school building located on the west end of the town of Miami. Miami is a modest-size community located in the mountains of central Arizona and has been associated with copper mining since its founding in the early 1900s. Built in 1923, the Neo-Classical Revival building was designed by the El Paso, Texas, architecture firm of Trost & Trost. It was used continuously as a school from 1923 until the spring of 1994. It was closed out of concern that possible structural problems made it unsafe for occupancy as a public building.


[graphic] photo Bullion Plaza School
Photo courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

Segregation of Mexican-American students was a common practice in Arizona public schools from the early decades of the 1900s until the early 1950s --precisely the period during which Bullion Plaza School served as a segregated school for Miami’s Mexican-American children. The school is representative of “Mexican schools” because of its configuration and operation as a vocational training center. School administrators at the time thought training schools were needed for Mexican-American students because of the perceived inability to perform well in traditional scholastic subjects. The segregation of Mexican-American children in Arizona’s schools occurred for nominally different reasons, and was carried out by different mechanisms, than was segregation of African-American children. Segregation of African-American students was required by law after 1909, when the Arizona legislature mandated that black and white students be separated in elementary schools. The law’s distinctions were based on definitions of race and did not specifically mention Mexican-American children, who at that time were legally considered to be white. That the law considered Mexican Americans to be white did not mean, however, that Anglos in the Southwest saw Mexican Americans as equals, or even as white in the popularly understood sense of the term. It was the view of Mexican-Americans as “foreigners” that provided the official rationale for segregating their children in Arizona’s public schools.

Although segregation in schools was never required by law, it reached significant proportions by the 1920s. Racial prejudice of the time throughout the Southwest deemed that Mexican-American children had language “deficiencies” that rendered them unable to study at the same level, or even take the same subjects, as their Anglo classmates. The formal segregation of Mexican-American students in Arizona schools persisted until the early 1950s, when a series of court decisions in Arizona and elsewhere in the Southwest forced local school districts to abandon the practice. This occurred at the same time as the movement to end African-American segregation, but the two movements were largely separate. Both, though, had their origins in increasing actions by minority parents that their children’s schools were not only separate but inferior, despite the claim of educators and school administrators that segregation was based on the theory of “separate but equal.”

Bullion Plaza School
Photo courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

The immediate motivation for building Bullion Plaza school was to eliminate overcrowding in the existing elementary schools in Miami. Another need for the school, as stated by then-superintendent C. Ralph Tuppe was that the town needed an improved “Mexican school.” According to older Miami residents, Mexican-American students could attend the white Inspiration Addition School if they (or their parents) “looked white,’ spoke English exceptionally well, or were persistent in asserting their rights to attend the same schools as their Anglo neighbors. Exactly how and when desegregation was accomplished in Miami remains a mystery, not only because of missing school records, but also because the local newspaper, the Arizona Silver Belt, did not acknowledge the segregation of Mexican-American students or report challenges to the practice. At some time in 1951 or 1952 the Miami school district abandoned its policy of requiring Mexican-American elementary students to attend Bullion Plaza School.

Given that the Bullion Plaza school was erected in 1923, it is a late and modest example of the Neo-Classical style. Almost all the Neo-Classical ornamentation is found in the central block, while the wings show little of the style. Still, the basic features of the style are evident in the central block: columns with elements from the Ionic order, cornices, pediments, a monumental portico with broad temple-like steps, and a corniced parapet. Although the Bullion Plaza School was identified on blueprints as the work of the firm, Trost & Trost, it probably was designed by Henry C. Trost and modeled after El Paso High School, a neo-Classical Revival building designed by Henry Trost and erected in 1916.

The Bullion Plaza School was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 27, 2000.

Read full documentation on the Bullion Plaza School.
Photographs for the Bullion Plaza School

The Organization of American Historians published an article on Mexican American segregation in public schools in the southwest

 

 

 

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