Phil Collins Sets Off a New Battle Over the AlamoHistorians in the News
tags: historic preservation, Texas, Alamo, monuments, public history, Phil Collins
When Phil Collins donated his vast trove of Alamo-related artifacts to Texas seven years ago, his only major stipulation was that the state create a museum at the famed mission fort to display it by 2021. The state agreed, breaking ground on the space this summer.
But Texans differ on whether the museum, anchored by this collection donated by Mr. Collins, should be focused on celebrating the small group of leaders who played key roles or reflect a broader, more complicated tale.
Some local activists like George Cisneros and Ramon Vasquez believe the Alamo museum should more deeply explore the contributions of Texans of Mexican descent, or Tejanos, as well as Native Americans and Black indentured and enslaved people. Some politicians like Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are open to broadening the museum so long as the focus remains on the battle itself and its leaders, like Davy Crockett. Others are digging in against what they believe is an incorrect rewriting of history.
Years of public hearings and cloistered workshops haven’t smoothed tensions. The debate has gotten so heated recently that Alamo tourists have had to navigate around armed protesters in order to reach its iconic church.
“It’s turned into a circus,” said Dora Guerra, a retired rare-book librarian who worked at the Alamo library.
The Alamo mission fort is famous because a small band of settlers and frontiersmen, including Crockett, died there fighting a larger Mexican army in 1836 in a bid for Texan independence. Mr. Collins’s gift includes hundreds of items related to that battle, from musket balls excavated nearby to documents signed by Crockett.
The disagreement over the Alamo exhibits reflects arguments elsewhere as museums and historic sites around the country grapple with their histories, rethink exhibit narratives, scrutinize donors’ fortunes and check the diversity of their management.
The Alamo itself remains a touchstone in U.S. history and popular culture. Hollywood regularly lionizes characters like Crockett, notably portrayed by John Wayne in 1960. Before the pandemic, Texas’s top landmark attracted 1.6 million visitors a year.
“The Alamo has such a mythical status that everyone thinks they know its story, but maybe they only really know about one day, or a few moments,” said Brian Franklin, associate director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “The devotion is almost religious.”
Mr. Cisneros, a private citizen, said he joined the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee because he wants the landmark’s managers to re-examine the fort’s narrative. He said he worries that the museum will keep the white fighters at the center and ignore the Tejanos who fought alongside them.
Following an Oct. 5 committee meeting, Mr. Cisneros emailed the committee to say he is afraid the state-approved museum will be “an expensive palace glorifying the Alamo myth.”
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