Wealthy Texas Activist Sues President of State's Historical AssociationHistorians in the News
tags: Texas, Alamo, public history, teaching history, Texas history
Retired oilman and philanthropist J.P. Bryan this week secured a temporary restraining order against the president of the Texas State Historical Association in a dispute over the ideological balance of the private organization’s board.
At stake is what version of Texas history will be told by the organization, created in 1897 and known for publishing, among other things, the authoritative “Handbook of Texas,” and books including the biennial “Texas Almanac.” The association’s other major service is education programs.
“How this whole thing goes will determine the future of the way the history of Texas is written — that’s what it’s all about,” said Bryan, executive director of the Texas State Historical Association. Bryan, who founded and made his fortune from Houston-based Torch Energy Advisors, is known locally for transforming the Galveston Orphans Home, 1315 21st St., into The Bryan Museum, which houses extensive collection of artifacts, books, documents, maps, paintings and drawings — all with a Texana theme.
Judge Kerry Neves of the 10th District Court in Galveston on Monday granted Bryan’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Nancy Baker Jones, president of the Texas State Historical Association. The restraining order stopped what Bryan called an improperly called board meeting Monday during which Jones planned to have him fired or greatly curtail his authority as executive director, he said.
In dispute is the makeup of the board, which the organization for many years has sought to be composed of a balance of professional and lay historians, essentially academics and non-academics, according to the petition.
The temporary restraining also seeks to stop Jones, accused of flouting bylaws when it comes to selecting board members, from any further action or “fabricating” any further rules until a full hearing in court, which is scheduled for May 12.
A balanced board is meant to ensure all voices and narratives of Texas history are heard, Bryan said in an interview.
But Bryan fears the makeup of the board — 12 academics and eight non-academics — isn’t balanced and gives more voice to people who take a critical view of Texas settlers.
“The preferred narrative is one that demeans the Anglo efforts in settling the western part of the United States for the purpose of spreading freedoms for all,” Bryan said in an interview. “They have a whole different narrative to describe the event.”
Jones is president of the Ruthe Winegarten Foundation for Texas Women’s History in Austin and author of “Making Texas Our Texas: The Emergence of Texas Women’s History, 1976-1990,” among other positions and achievements.
Bryan said he wasn’t trying to suppress history, but wanted to ensure there was room for all the voices in the room and that Texas history isn’t focused solely on victimization.
In recent years, controversies have arisen over the Alamo narrative and Texas colonists’ fight for independence from Mexico, which some, including authors of “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” argue was primarily to preserve slavery in what was then an outlying part of northern Mexico.
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