|A chain restaurant stands at the former location of the Eighth Street School in Tempe, April 2011 (photo by Katelain Saunders).|
|The Eighth Street School was a segregated elementary school in Tempe (courtesy of Tempe Historical Museum).|
80l S. Mill Ave. Tempe, AZ 85281
On the South East Corner of Mill Avenue and University Dr. where there is now a Chili’s Bar and Grill is where Tempe’s Eighth Street School used to stand. Originally a school for all children in the town in the early 1900’s, the Eighth Street School for grades k-8 soon became a space of racial segregation and disproportionate disadvantages for those who attended. With the building of the new Tenth Street School in 1915 the white students began to attend school in the new facility while the Mexican American or ‘of Spanish descent’ children were only permitted attendance at the older Eighth Street School.
In 1925 Tempe resident and local farmer Adolfo Romo filed the first U.S. Mexican-American desegregation lawsuit—Romo v. Laird. In October of 1925 Romo brought his four children to the Tenth Street School and demanded enrollment but was denied permission. Principal William E. Laird and the school board used the claim to “Separate but equal” as justification for the segregated conditions. However, the students at Eighth Street School were not taught by professional teachers but rather teachers-in-training from the Tempe Normal School (Now Arizona State University). According to the minutes recorded by Clerk of the Board of Education Isabel F. Waterhouse the District strategically established the Eighth Street School as a means of lower level training for Teachers-to-be. She recorded on February 9, 1925 in a letter to County Attorney Gene S. Cunningham that for ten years “the white children attended the Tenth Street School and the Mexicans have attended the Eighth Street School” and that conditions have been “as nearly equal as it is possible to make them” (TD3, 21). The letter also reveals that the Tempe Normal School was in need of practice with students and therefore the Eighth Street School should be “turned over to them for training school purposes” (TD3, 21). Contrary to these private recordings, the Board publicly professed that the “Eighth Street School is the same in every respect” to all other schools within District 3 (Jay).
After a long struggle and persistence Romo won the court case and his children were admitted and enrolled in the Tenth Street School. Judge Joseph S. Jencks stated in his ruling that “The teachers… in the… Eighth Street School are inferior in attainments and qualification and the ability to teach as compared with the teachers… in the other schools of the district” (Jay).
Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century racial segregation in academic institutions has been a “key administrative practice leading to negative consequences” that still bleed into our society (Menchaca, 223). While schools are no longer legally segregated, the long history of academic isolation and discrimination is what many historians attribute to as a leading cause to the remnants of inequality in educational systems today. More specifically, the segregation and discrimination of Mexican Americans is arguably connected to the concept of Mexicans as a conquered people because of the 1846-48 Mexican American War and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Manchaca, 223). Romo refused to be conquered. Although his victory did not desegregate schools as a whole, it provided a better education for his children and the other Mexican American children of Tempe. The Mexican American resistance to second-class standards at the Eighth Street School stood as a historical landmark and example for further progress in the desegregation of schools across the nation.
-By Katelain Saunders and Laura Tamez
Jay, Mark. “School Segregation Spurred Key 1925 Lawsuit.” Arizona Republic 01 May 2009:
Menchaca, Martha and Richard R. Valencia. “Anglo-Saxon Ideologies in the 1920s-1930s: Their
Impact on the Segregation of Mexican Students in California.” Anthropology & Education
Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 222-249. Web.
Rose DeForest, A History of Tempe School District No. 3, 1874-1991. Tempe School District
No. 3, 1991. Print.