One thing that makes reading history fun, for me at least, is finding out what really happened. So often what we know, or think we know, has been influenced by forces outside the facts: racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, all the ‘ism’s plus time. Time passes and history changes. Then, periodically, someone comes along to set the record straight.
It makes for interesting reading.
In the case of Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough et. al. it makes for something darn close to a page turner. I found this book to be kind of hard to put down.
The first part reconstructs the battle at the Alamo and the events leading up to it. The story of Texas, like the story of America, is contentious. We can try to make our history sound heroic and noble, but many of our ancestors were outright scoundrels or worse.
I knew that the motivation for Texas’s war of rebellion was basically the expansion of slavery, but I didn’t know that this was openly written into their original constitution of 1836. Here it is, in part.
Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from the United States of America from bringing their slaves into the Republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States; nor shall Congress have power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slave-holder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave or slaves, without the consent of Congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the Republic.
This constitution also forbids free Black or Native American person from entering Texas.
I don’t mean to single out Texas. Many states in the American west had similar laws. California, where I live, once had an open bounty on the lives of Native Americans.
So, how did so many people come to embrace the idea that the defenders of the Alamo were heroes to be memorialized and basically worshipped?
It’s a very interesting story and something that didn’t happen right away–it took generations. The authors tell this story in a breezy, familiar style that makes for very entertaining reading even if it does sacrifice a level of gravitas most books like this would seek.
For the most part, they tell a straightforward story of what happened and then the story of how people tried to control the story of what happened. But there are narrative intrusions when the authors add a comment here and there, a note about their own experiences or their own reactions. For the most part, these are unobtrusive and actually help to make what could be fairly dry content more fun to read. But I began to fell like they were sacrificing a bit of higher ground in favor of a quick bit of wit. If you’re interested in this topic, even a little, don’t let my comments here turn you away from reading Forget the Alamo. It’s really a fun read that has a lot to teach most readers and will leave you with food for thought in the end.
I confess that I bought this book when it came out in paperback basically to piss of Texas governor Greg Abbot who used his position to attack the authors and anyone who doubted the heroic myth of the Alamo. Back in July of 2021, Governor Abbot forced a Texas museum to cancel an event for writers which was to feature the authors of Forget the Alamo. Basically, he believed that this kind of history has no place in a museum, and he is in a position to force his view on everyone who might disagree with him.
So, I bought the book.
I even read it.
So, what if slavery was really central to the founding of Texas? It was basically central to the founding of every state in America in some way. In the few places where it wasn’t, Native American removal/genocide certainly was.
How does it hurts us to acknowledge this and finally begin to deal with it? We’re like a huge family with an abusive grandfather who just died. While everyone keeps insisting on remembering only the good times, there’s that one kid at the funeral who keeps bringing things up. Things everyone knows but no one wants to discuss. We’d all benefit from bringing those things into the light, that one kid keeps saying. Grandpa’s dead and gone; why keep trying to protect his reputation?
Forget the Alamo tries to bring as much as it can into the light. The authors will surely pay a price for it.
3 thoughts on “Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford”
Even at the Alamo, where I just visited, they’re starting to tell a fuller version of the story. After the 300th anniversary (while I was there, but I visited later in the week), they opened up a new Ralston Family Collections Center with new “learning opportunities.”
Sounds like a little progress, but I’ll take it. My family drove past it when we moved from Florida to California back in 1976, but there was no place to park the camper trailer we were pulling so we didn’t get to go inside.
It’s a tiny building. If you linger and/or get the audio tour, you can make it last 30 minutes.
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