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What a Crockett: Book on the Alamo opens a conversation Republicans refuse to have

(Flickr)

Truths about Texas' history took center stage in "Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth," a book released last month, which reminds anyone who cares to remember that Gen. Santa Anna—well, the whole country of Mexico if you want to get technical about it—was very much against slavery at the time of the Texas Revolution and that Davy Crockett and his slave-trading cohorts Jim Bowie and William B. Travis were in fact fighting for the right to treat people as property.


The myth (more suitable to comic books than Texas History classrooms) is that Crockett would not surrender and died in a blaze of glory for the cause of freedom; however, the book underscores the truth that Crockett's surrender and execution were widely reported in 1836 and only morphed into martyrdom in the popular imagination thanks to Walt Disney's 1954-1955 miniseries.


The authors of "Forget the Alamo" maintain (and back up their findings with copious footnotes that will supply any skeptic with a serious summer reading list) that the myth of the freedom fighters standing their ground in the Alamo, or Misión San Antonio de Valero," has been used to promote a number of reactionary causes, from Nixon-era anti-communism to post-9/11 anti-Arab drum-beating. But primarily the authors argue the Alamo has been employed to foster a narrative of white supremacy for the right.

"The Alamo, long used in a myth that demonized and gaslit Mexican-Americans and Indigenous people, might as well be a Confederate monument in the minds of conservative adherents to the Heroic Anglo Myth," the authors stress. "We must recognize that the Battle of the Alamo was as much about slavery as the Civil War was about slavery," they write.

Describing themselves as "proud Texans," the authors of "Forget the Alamo" (Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford) are a trio of veteran journalists who "don't believe knowing the truth about Texas history makes the state any less unique or important."

The authors (whose byline bona fides extend from Texas Monthly to Vanity Fair) don't ask for much, really, just to open a conversation involving some obvious truths that might make for a more nuanced, factual account of the "cradle of Texas liberty."

This conversation has proven to be a difficult one to have in public.

On July 1., Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the cancellation of a "Forget the Alamo" book event at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Patrick tweeted out his motivation the next day, saying: "As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it... this fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place."

Much to GOP officials' dismay, the book's authors have called for some honesty to be injected into the education system rather than let Texas schools keep teaching what they call "the whitewashed story." "To learn the real lessons of the Texas Revolt, we need to learn the truth about Bowie, Travis and Crockett," they write. "Bowie was a murderer, slaver, and con man; Travis was a pompous, racist agitator and syphilitic lech; and Crockett was a self-promoting old fool who was captive to his own myth."

Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbot have a vested interest in controlling any dialogue that emerges from "Forget the Alamo."

In June, the governor established the "1836 Project," a nine-member advisory committee crafted for the promotion of a "patriotic education" to the residents of Texas, regarding the state's secession from Mexico in 1836. The project aims to ensure that "future generations understand TX values."

Abbot's 1836 project—following Trump's now-canceled 1776 Commission -- is a not-so-subtle attempt to counter The New York Times' 1619 Project: which seeks to shine a light on the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S. while offering an easily accessible curriculum for interested educators.

In recent months 22 states have put forth legislation designed to limit educators' ability to reference the 1619 Project, and states such as Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, have signed those limits into law.

The facts about the Alamo made prominent in "Forget the Alamo" would no doubt make Abbott's not-yet compulsory "patriotic education" more complicated. For, regarding the heroes of the Alamo, the authors note: "They fought for freedom, just not everybody's freedom."

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