HONORING THE STUDENTS OF BASTROP’S
MINA WARD SCHOOL
It was a small, nondescript clapboard schoolhouse on Main Street, just north of the railroad track.
In 1933, the school board purchased just over two acres and built a school for its Mexican-American students. First called the “Mexican school,” in 1939 the building was designated the “Mina Ward School.
A rare photograph of Bastrop, Texas’ Mina Ward School.
Local historians Ken Kesselus and Judi Hoover gathered a group of students several years ago, a class reunion of sorts. According to Ken, students remembered the building well. It was an L-shaped wood-framed structure on pier and beam, painted
a cheery yellow. Every morning the students would gather for a ceremony to raise the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The school had three entrances. Inside was a platform that could be used as a stage for performances. There was a library. There was even a room used to confine children who misbehaved. According to Ken, those isolated there often benefited because the room was also used to store candy.
It was clear the students still held fond memories of the early days of the Mina Ward School even though they were strictly disciplined. The teachers stressed the im-
portance of learning English. They were spanked if they slipped up, often by the principal, Allan B. Finnell, who they recalled had a wooden leg.
It wasn’t until little Minerva Delgado was set to enter the first grade in 1947 that things changed. Her grandfather, Samuel Garcia, his son and her uncle, Sam Garcia met with Superintendent P.J. Dodson to ask if she could attend the school the Anglos attended as it was closer to home. The request was denied. Soon afterward, University of Texas professor George Sanchez and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) began gathering information about discrimination against Hispanics in Texas and on November 17, 1947, he filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all Texas children of Mexican descent. In addition to Minerva, other Bastrop plaintiffs were Evaristo Gutierrez, a naturalized American with a son killed in WWII, for his children, 11-year-old Evaristo, Jr. and nine-year-old Ruth, as well as Desiderio Gutierrez, a citizen of the Republic of Mexico, for his children – 12-year-old Abelaro and nine-year-old Maria.
The trial began on June 15, 1948. Over the course of the arguments, it became apparent the pupils deserved equal access to resources and would learn English more quickly from fellow English-speaking students. In the end, the judge ruled the districts were “arbitrary and discriminatory and in violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.” The ruling applied to all Texas children of “Mexican or other Latin American descent.”
Within the school year, Minerva and her classmates joined the Anglo students and the Mina Ward School closed its doors; however, it can be credited with giving these young minds a strong start in public education. Retired Texas State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, once a student there, can certainly attest to that.
On September 23, 2017, the Bastrop County Historical Commission and the City of Bastrop will partner to honor the students of the Mina Ward School through the dedication of a Texas Undertold Story Historical Marker and the establishment of Minerva Delgado Park. The public is invited.