You can’t walk far beyond the front doors of the public library in Uvalde without seeing signs of sympathy, remembrance and support.
A countless variety of things have arrived at the El Progreso Memorial Library in the year since a shooter killed 19 children and two teachers inside Robb Elementary on May 24, 2022.
The library is filled with paintings, quilts, flags, wooden statuettes depicting the victim’s photos, calligraphy of their names, and a handstitched basket adorned with 21 butterflies.
These items, and dozens more like them, have been sent to Uvalde from people across the country in a show of support after the tragedy.
“I want the library to be a safe place, a refuge, a respite from what tragedies are going on in the community,” said Mendell D. Morgan, Jr., library director.
As the library is now tasked with cataloging and preserving the countless mementos, articles and photos tied to the tragedy at Robb Elementary, Morgan also hopes to continue sharing the story of the school’s past.
“Robb was one of our very well-established schools in the community,” he said. “The name comes from a woman who lived here many years ago.”
Annie Robb was a career teacher in Uvalde who, when she died, dedicated what money she had to help the children of Uvalde.
She was born in Rockport, Texas, in 1873.
“When she was 11, the family moved to Uvalde, and she was among the first students to graduate from high school here in 1891,” Morgan said. “There were three students in the graduating class in 1891.”
Robb was also known for her civic engagement.
As president of El Progreso Club in 1926, she was the first to lobby the city for funding for the library.
Robb passed away in 1954.
Soon after, a contest was held to choose the name of the town’s newest school.
“One of my friends, a late classmate of mine, proposed (Robb’s) name because he had been actually tutored by her after she had retired,” Morgan said. “His grandfather owned the Main Hotel in downtown Uvalde. And so he told me that he went to all the employees and asked them to please vote for Miss Robb. So he had a very effective campaign.”
The school was named in Robb’s honor on May 11, 1956.
“Fabulous times we all had there,” recalled Olga Charles, who grew up near Robb Elementary and graduated in 1970.
“My brother talks about how we were were one of the first to get a TV. At lunch, they’d run home, grab their sandwiches, and watch TV. Then they’d run back,” she said. “Before the tardy bell, they were in class. That means you went to a neighborhood school.”
In 1970, Robb Elementary would be at the center of a fight for civil rights.
“I went to Robb in the ‘50s. I was, I think I was in the fourth grade,” said Lalo Castillo. “I realized that there was so much discrimination here at a very young age.”
“Back then, because of the area that Robb Elementary covered, we were all Hispanics,” Charles said.
While she says she never felt discriminated against, Castillo felt differently.
“The teachers back then were mostly white,” Castillo said. “They punished us for speaking Spanish.”
In 1970, around the time he was 24, Castillo helped organize a walkout of Uvalde schools.
Robb Elementary had one Mexican-American teacher at the time — George Garza. He was well-liked, and someone parents of young Latino students leaned on.
“The school issue came up. We took advantage of that,” Castillo said. “The walkout did not start for any other reason. The timing was right.”
The walkout began at the high school.
Two hundred students walked out of their classrooms.
“My father says, ‘You’re not walking out.’ So I didn’t walk out,” Charles remembered. “It was horrible because all I knew was that my best friend was out there walking, and I did not know why. I did not understand.”
The walkout lasted six weeks and spread to multiple campuses.
In the end, 650 students took part.
Those who did were held back a year or never received their diplomas.
Castillo says it made a difference.
“We did a lot of good. We had a lot of students that did voter registration,” he said. “We energized a lot of younger people, a lot of people to run for office.”
“That’s when things started to change,” Castillo said.
“Now, 50 years later — I understand why they walked out,” said Charles. “You know, at first, we thought it was a dark cloud over us. But that was nothing.”
Telling the story of Robb
A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities allowed the El Progreso Library to hire an archivist who specializes in cataloging and preserving the items, articles, photos, and more received over the last year related to the shooting at Robb Elementary.
“Everyone is trying so hard to do something meaningful,” Morgan said.
One woman drove an RV cross-country to donate dozens of books to the library to show her support.
Someone from Alaska sent their state flag in solidarity.
“We know that research will be done on this tragedy for many years to come,” Morgan said. “We will be able to professionally identify all the objects that have come to us.”
Morgan hopes the spirit of Annie Robb won’t be lost in the story of the school that bears her name, even as the world recognizes it for the horror of May 24, 2022.
“People are still coming from everywhere who want to come in and be in the community to offer their support and to see what happened here,” he said.
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