Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the National Park Service to place Hillburn Main School on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation would recognize the school’s history during New York State’s desegregation movement. The national register also expands opportunities for federal historic tax credits and other resources to support future preservation and development initiatives. The Hillburn Main School in Rockland County was a focal point of school desegregation in New York State during the early 1940s.
“The desegregation of the Hillburn Main School in 1943 was a significant moment in the history of Hudson Valley and New York State,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Hillburn Main School deserves a place on the National Register of Historic Places. This site is a historic reminder of the sacrifice previous generations made in the pursuit of equality and to progress civil rights. I am pushing for this important designation so Hillburn Main School can secure national recognition of its important role in desegregation efforts.”
“We are deeply honored by the efforts to ensure that the Brook School will be etched in the annals of American History,” said Willie Trotman, President Spring Valley NAACP. “Names like Thurgood Marshall, Marion Van Dunk, Thomas Alexander and Allen Morgan Jr. can now be remembered also. We would like to acknowledge the work of so many, including Senator Gillibrand, Assembly Member Jaffee and Congresswoman Lowey.”
The Hillburn Main School was one of the last formally segregated schools in New York State. In 1943, Thurgood Marshall, head of the NAACP’s legal department, led the community petition against the Ramapo Central School District board and appeal to the New York State Board of Education. This resulted in the commissioner ruling that Brook School should be closed and that all students, regardless of race, should attend Main School.
The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case was decided eleven years later in 1954.
The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s most recent letter to National Park Service Director, Jonathan Jarvis, calling for the historic landmark designation included below:
I write in support of the candidacy of the Hillburn Main School for placement on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. This school is historically and culturally significant as a symbol of the civil rights movement.
The Hillburn Main School is located in Rockland County, New York and is the headquarters of the Ramapo Central School District. The hamlet of Hillburn grew during the late nineteenth century and by 1888, included a separate school for white and black students in the local school district. In 1912, Main School was built to replace the decaying white school, which contrasted greatly to the Brook School for black students that lacked a gymnasium, indoor plumbing and proper lighting. Unequal, segregated educational facilities led to multiple movements through litigation and local action, which all failed in their integration efforts until Thurgood Marshall, in charge of the NAACP legal department, appealed to the New York State Board of Education in 1943, which led to a decision that brought an end to the last formally segregated school in New York State and officially closed the Brook School, integrating all students into Hillburn’s Main School.
The prominent school desegregation battle that occurred at the Hillburn Main School is of great significance to the region, state and country. The events in Hillburn were widely covered by regional, state and national media, and represented a victory for the NAACP, served as the basis for legislative change and inspired activists to pursue equality in other communities. The facility remains architecturally intact, retaining its original plan with historical resources, and the lawn includes a current statue of Thurgood Marshall to honor his contributions as a leader. The school’s history is significant to the region as a distinctive example of how the civil rights movement unfolded in New York, and contributed largely to a forward shift in the region’s social and economic trajectory. Achieving the distinction of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places will confirm the school’s historical significance, while ensuring the preservation of this important site for many years to come.
I ask that you please give the application of the Hillburn Main School your full consideration.