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Fronteras: The complicated ties between Mexico, US and slavery unraveled in ‘South to Freedom’

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Controversy surrounding the narrative of the Battle of the Alamo recently erupted. But some historians, including author Alice Baumgartner, are aware of the event's complicated history and its ties to the preservation of slavery.
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Controversy surrounding the narrative of the Battle of the Alamo recently erupted. But some historians, including author Alice Baumgartner, are aware of the event's complicated history and its ties to the preservation of slavery.
Alice L. Baumgartner is assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California and author of "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War."
Paul Luke
Alice L. Baumgartner is assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California and author of "South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War."

Controversy erupted earlier this year with the publication of the book “Forget the Alamo.” The authors argue that the narrative of the 1836 battle at the Alamo was not centered on independence, but on the preservation of slavery.

Historians are aware of the connection between slavery and Texas independence. Nearly all of the Alamo defenders were slave owners, and many of the Anglos who came to Tejas prior to 1836 brought their slaves in the hopes that they could take advantage of the agricultural opportunities the vast landscape offered.

The only problem was slavery was not allowed in Tejas, since Mexico abolished the practice by the mid-19th century.

In the book, “South to Freedom: Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War,” historian Alice Baumgartner examines the U.S. and Mexico’s complicated ties to slavery and how Mexico’s stance on slavery had a major influence on politics to the North.

While the story of slavery in the U.S. often centers on the policy makers or even on the slave owners, Baumgartner also brings a new perspective by elevating the stories of the enslaved whose legacies were largely erased from history.

“The stories of the freedom seekers themselves were one of the things that really drew my attention in this project,” explained Baumgartner. “Because their resourcefulness, their ingenuity, their ability to navigate these complex and changing legal systems was so astonishing to me and really felt like it was a part of the history that had been overlooked.”

This is part two of a two-part conversation. Part one can be listened to and read here.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren