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Arts & Culture

New Book Challenges Readers To Confront History Of Slavery By Forgetting The 'Alamo Of Our Dreams'

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Courtesy Penguin Press
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Forget the Alamo – that’s what authors of a new book about the famous battle site in San Antonio are asking readers to do – or to at least consider.

In “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an America Myth,” Chris Tomlinson, Bryan Burrough and Jason Stanford explore the Alamo’s “actual” history rather than its lore. Tomlinson and Burrough spoke with Texas Standard.

At the core of that actual history is a hard truth Texans struggle to accept today: slavery. Burrough says Texas’ entire, cotton-based economy was dependent upon slavery, and the Battle of the Alamo was an attempt to maintain the status quo. He says the Mexican government accommodated Texas for years but it was slavery about which the two sides vehemently disagreed.

“By and large, the Mexican government had given the Texans everything they had wanted for 15 years, including Texas being the only place in Mexico… where people were still allowed to have slaves,” Burrough said. “The Texans, led by Stephen F. Austin, fought zealously every single year with a different legislature, a different empire who wanted to take away the slaves.”

Tomlinson says the idea that Santa Anna, the Mexican general against which the Texans are said to have fought courageously, was “evil or dastardly” is plain wrong. He says the general was determined to end slavery in Texas, and had a right to do so.

This was a government defending its rightful territory from invaders who had brought slaves and slavery into a post-colonial nation founded on egalitarian principles,” he said.

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The time is ripe for correcting historical narratives that omit or downplay the role of slavery. In an increasingly multicultural Texas, Tomlinson says it’s especially important for the state to tell “the truth” about its past.

“So much of the history of the Alamo, the Texas creation myth, if you will, is wrapped up in racial history – whether it’s treatment and mistreatment of the Tejanos – the Mexican-Americans – or the fact that so much of the Texas revolt itself was wrapped up in the Texans’ fight for slavery,” Burrough said.

The book’s timing also coincides with a major renovation of the Alamo grounds – a site steeped in Texas mythology. Texas is planning to spend $450 million, which includes a new museum.

“It’s one thing, you know, when the myth is just kind of in the air. But when you’re about to spend millions of dollars on something, I think that’s an opportunity to reexamine it,” Tomlinson said.

He and Burrough were, themselves, steeped in Texas lore from a young age. Only later in life did they question its validity: Tomlinson, when he was writing his first book; Burrough, two years ago when he was 58 years old.

Both expect blowback for the new book; they know that many Texans will find it hard to challenge beliefs they’ve held true for a lifetime. But Tomlinson says the book doesn’t present any ideas beyond what historians and experts have already reported. Plus, Burrough says, it’s overdue.

“It’s the 21st century; it’s long past time to start looking at the actual, the real, the historic Alamo, rather than the Alamo of our dreams,” he said.

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