After conservative critics complain, history museum pulls out as host hours before book event
Forget the Alamo, indeed.
The Texas state history museum’s 11th-hour refusal to host a talk by authors of a new book that skewers the Alamo mythology has spurred widespread criticism and calls of censorship.
Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of An American Myth, by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford, pierces the monumentally heroic legend of Texans’ noble but doomed battle for independence. Mythmakers whitewashed the truth of what happened at the Alamo to erase contributions from Tejano soldiers and Mexico’s push to abolish slavery, the authors argue.
The trio’s telling has plenty of fans. Forget the Alamo received positive reviews from historians in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, along with kudos from a host of other outlets (including Book and Film Globe). Texas Monthly and Vanity Fair excerpted the book.
What better place for a discussion than the Bullock Texas State History Museum, whose online address enshrines it as thestoryoftexas.com? The museum and the Writers’ League of Texas thought so, and partnered to host a July 1 authors’ talk.
“There were hundreds of RSVPs. It would have been by far our biggest virtual event,” Stanford noted in a phone interview with Book and Film Globe.
The Bullock promoted the event throughout late June, tweeting on June 25, “Join us for behind-the-scenes details on … Forget the Alamo that is sparking interesting conversations across the state.” The book’s “noted Texas writers combine forces to dispel myths about #TheAlamo and reexamine this enduring icon of #TexasHistory,” the museum explained in another tweet that same day.
But not everyone was a fan of this particular pairing of topic and setting.
“A travesty that @BullockMuseum would use taxpayer $ to sponsor an event for the trashy non-history book ‘Forget the Alamo,’” Kevin Roberts, CEO of the uber-conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, tweeted June 28. “Texans – and our glorious history – deserve better,” he added, tagging Texas lawmakers on the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Bullock.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agreed. “As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it,” he tweeted July 2, adding that “this fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place” at the museum.
Reaction was swift, though perhaps not what conservative critics intended.
State lawmakers, journalists and readers broadcast their support on social media. PEN America, the literary nonprofit devoted to free expression, released a statement warning that the Bullock’s action should “set off alarm bells.” “I will be getting this book. #ForgettheAlamo,” tweeted National Book Award winner and antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi. Author and MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted out an invitation for the authors to appear on a future edition of her show.
Sales soared. The book landed in the Top 20 on Amazon over the July 4 holiday weekend, when it also won a positive review in the New York Times’ Sunday books section. A second printing is in the works.
Truth and history
The Bullock’s last-minute switch is emblematic of the current debate in Texas and nationally about how our nation discusses and teaches history, Stanford said. He and his fellow co-authors originally envisioned Forget the Alamo as a diverting side project.
“Initially we thought it was going to be a regional book, some fun to do in our spare time,” Stanford said. Over time, “we realized why no one has done this, because there has always been political pressure to keep the myth alive.”
They never anticipated the book publishing in the middle of a “nationally orchestrated blowback” on teaching the inconvenient truths of history, he said. But the timing amplifies the importance of doing exactly that, he added.
“This hasn’t been just a big uptick in sales. People want to talk about the book in public forums. People should be having public conversations about it. It gets down to who we are Texans.”
When the Bullock withdrew as host, the Writers’ League of Texas offered to continue with the event that night on a different platform, but deferred to the authors’ decision of how to proceed. The logistics of notifying all Bullock-registered attendees of a venue swap on short notice were untenable, Stanford said. “That’s like saying, ‘The restaurant’s closed, but you can still have dinner.’” But if the museum revived its offer?
“Hell yes, absolutely. We would love to do that,” he said. “We are simple people. We think the state history museum is a great place to talk about state history.”