An Honest History of Texas Begins and Ends With White SupremacyHistorians in the News
tags: history education, slavery, Texas, teaching history
The past few months have been rough for Texas—and for the Texas Republican Party in particular. Republicans in the state led the charge to overturn the 2020 election results, centering their anti-democratic arguments on fantasies of stolen ballots and smothered voices. Then a once-in-a-generation winter storm revealed the extent to which years-long GOP control had rotted the state’s infrastructure, providing a searing illustration of collapse that gripped the news cycle and the nation. (And leading to Senator Ted Cruz tucking tail for Cancun.) Just last week, Governor Greg Abbott—in a fit of “neanderthal thinking,” as President Joe Biden said—launched a premature lifting of the state’s mask mandate, setting the stage for new Covid-19 variants to wash across the population, the potential for new casualties in a pandemic the rest of the country is finally obtaining the upper hand over, and new reasons for voters who may be tilting in their partisan preferences to consider ousting the governor when he’s up for reelection in two years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the state’s GOP—mimicking its national counterpart—has responded to these cascading failures not with sound policy proposals but with a bushel of distractions related to America’s never-ending culture wars. The state’s oleaginous lieutenant governor has led the way, proposing legislation that would force publicly funded entities and events to perform the national anthem. The Texas Republican Party’s official headquarters, hurtling headlong into cognitive dissonance, endorsed the first serious secession bill the country has seen since the Civil War. That measure has since picked up multiple Republican sponsors in the House.
All of which brings us to the latest front that Texas Republicans have launched in their war on reality. This month, one Texas Republican House member filed legislation to force the creation of a new project for supposedly “patriotic education.” Calling for the formation of an “1836 Project,” named after the year Texas declared independence from Mexico, the bill models itself after former President Donald Trump’s ill-starred “1776 Project.” Trump’s effort—which barely lasted a week before the new administration obliterated it wholesale—was itself a response to The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which recentered slavery and human bondage in the story of colonial America.
According to Representative Tan Parker, the legislator who filed the bill, the proposal is “exclusively about celebrating Texas.” As Parker contended, “Many of our children are taught to denounce Texas history and do not understand what it means to be a virtuous citizen.” It’s unclear what Parker has in mind when he describes “virtuous” citizens, but it’s clear that the ultimate aim of the project is simply to whitewash Texas’s past of any critiques about the central role human enslavement played in the Texas Revolution. “It’s about reasserting whiteness and focusing on when white people ‘founded’ this state,” University of North Texas professor Amanda Vickery told The Dallas Morning News.
Vickery has this correct. Parker’s paeans to “patriotic education” are little more than a smokescreen for reinforcing the kinds of myths and legends about the Texas Revolution that have played down slavery’s central, essential role in breaking the state off from Mexico. But if Parker wants to paper over the role of race and revolution in Texas—and to try to parley these myths to a new generation of Texas students—the least we can do is highlight just how the Republic of Texas became arguably the most anti-Black, and most avowedly white supremacist, country to have ever existed.