Former Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald addressed the Daughters of the Republic of Texas 2021 Annual Convention opening ceremony in San Antonio Thursday night. The DRT were the state’s custodians of the Alamo for more than a century and continue to lead in preserving the Lone Star State’s unique history.
McDonald struck many themes that have come up here and in other media recently as the once-massive, but recently scaled-back Alamo renovation and preservation plan moves forward. Here are a few excerpts.
I am not a Texan….however I care greatly about the accurate telling history of the formation of Texas. That world-renowned letter Travis wrote on February 24, 1836 was “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World.”
I believe Travis knew that day that the history, which was about to be written, was transformational to “all Americans in the world.” The events of the following eight weeks would transform the Western Hemisphere. These events resulted in Texas joining the United States, the Mexican American War and the western boundary of this nation moving south 900 miles from Oregon to Southern California.
Texas’ history is the keystone of the reshaping of the United States and Mexico, it is not only Texas’ history, but it is the history of the United States, and “All Americans in the World.”
Today, however, this history is under attack. There are those who would diminish that history, those who would replace that history and those who would rather we forget that history.
PJ Media has covered this issue, most recently addressing an activist’s claim that Santa Anna, the brutal dictator who did away with the federalist constitution and massacred hundreds in Mexico and Texas, was somehow a liberating humanitarian who had an all-black regiment fighting in Texas. Setting aside the fact that if he had, that might have constituted segregation, according to experts on the composition of the units Santa Anna brought to Texas, there was no such unit at all.
First consider the Texas State Historical Association, one would expect them to tell accurate history and be pro-Texas. However, their chief historian, Walter Buenger, who is also an endowed chair in Texas History at the University of Texas, in 1989 referred to the DRT and SRT, as “”zealots” who “seek to silence and intimidate” modern New Social History Texas historians.”
Last July, in a HistoryNet interview, Dr. Buenger said, “I often say that in 1836, the Alamo had a flat roof….The average student’s or average non-historian’s knowledge of Texas and U.S. history is heavily influenced by what someone wants to believe…”
We all know the Alamo did not even have a roof during the battle. The U.S. Army added that later. It seems the Texas Historical Association’s chief historian just has his facts wrong, raising the questions. How much does he really understand, and what’s influencing his beliefs about the Alamo?
On January 12 of this year in USA Today, Buenger said, “The Alamo is a ‘monument to whiteness,’ like Confederate monuments.” Dr. Buenger, in his role with the Texas Historical Association, is the editor of the Handbook of Texas Online. Wikipedia uses this content almost verbatim on Texas topics as well as many media outlets and schools which use the handbook. So, the world believes what Buenger tells them about Texas.
After addressing another Texas historian who holds dubious views of the state’s history, Dr. Ty Cashion at Sam Houston State University, McDonald went on to address the progress and challenges ahead for the Alamo amid an attempt to “reset” Texas and American history.
I support the development of a new plan. There are great developments at the Alamo and soon the public will be able to see the wonderful Phil Collins collection in a state-of-the-art exhibit hall. We are excited to know that traffic will no longer traverse the Alamo battlefield daily. The “reset” of the physical buildings is simply the outcome of advancing a complicated plan.
However, In Texas, there is a “History Reset” which includes the Alamo, which concerns me greatly. Consider the words of those who celebrate this “reset.” Leadership of this “reset” said in the San Antonio Express News in May of 2020, the Alamo Plan “is allowing the Alamo to be reborn as a 21st-century monument to the Confederacy….”
They were “moved by the …. call for a complete telling of the Alamo’s history and for preservation of the historic Woolworth building, a landmark of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.”
In the Express News they have said, “The role slavery played in the development of Texas will be critical to the project’s reset.”
There are fundamental problems with these perspectives.
I find it so ironic that many of these who advance this perspective speak derisively about the “myths of the Alamo,” while it is they who are creating Alamo myths.
The San Antonio Conservation Society, in the State Antiquities Landmark designation for the Woolworth Building wrote, “The San Antonio Express-News photographed history in the making at the Woolworth’s cafeteria, where the store’s equal service policy also helped San Antonio acquire the distinction of being “the first city in the South to receive publicity for the desegregation of its lunch counters.”
Regretfully, the San Antonio Conservation Society has created a myth.
Consider the following regarding these claims about the Woolworth Building.
● The photograph they attached to the application to the Texas Historical Commission was of the Kress lunch counter, not the Woolworth.
● San Antonio was not the first peacefully integrated lunch counter in the South as they claimed. It wasn’t the first in Texas and not even the first in San Antonio!
● And, no nationally regarded historian has ever called the San Antonio Woolworth “a landmark of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.”
If everyone was committed to the truthful and whole telling of the Alamo’s history, then the Conservation Society and Texas Historical Commission would acknowledge these erroneous beliefs and place a special designation on the Kress building.
The University of Texas San Antonio’s library, which for decades described this iconic lunch counter desegregation photo as the Woolworth building, after being shown the research by Alamo Trust, corrected their record to stipulate that it is the Kress Cafeteria. So did others, with this historical evidence, refocus their efforts to preserving the Kress cafeteria which is unused and available?
No, my dear friends of history, because this is not their agenda. Their agenda is not to tell a full and accurate history of the Alamo and of Texas. Their agenda is to diminish the Alamo’s history by inserting their myths.
Myth #1…the Texas Revolution was all about slavery.
It wasn’t! The Texas Revolution was part of a much larger rebellion against Santa Anna, the dictator, and as is the case in all revolutions, there were many contributing factors. Multiple Mexican states including Texas rebelled because they wanted to be free from tyranny. Many high-ranking officials and Mexican governors rebelled beyond Texas. Santa Anna’s actions forced war on most of Mexico, which had no slaves.
That Santa Anna was ruthless in putting down these Mexican states, this historical fact by itself refutes the assertion that the Texas Revolution was fundamentally about slavery. Those who want to reset Texas history characterize Santa Anna as the liberator of slaves. He was no Abraham Lincoln! He was a dictator, he executed his opposition and committed war crimes against Zacatecas in May of 1835 before coming to Texas.
Myth #2…The Woolworth is so significant it must be preserved as “a landmark of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.”
The fact is, it has not been preserved because the lunch counter that was there has been substantially gone for decades — and the Kress building is far more historically important. We can’t allow these myths to diminish the real history that happened at the Alamo, history that changed the world. The Woolworth building stands on the footprint of the Treviño House where Travis wrote those immortal words which changed the world. Today there is a tension between telling the story of the Alamo by fully recapturing the west wall, the Treviño and Losoya homes or to tell a myth?
As a museum and historic site leader for 38 years; I believe the best place to tell history is where history happened.
Prior to leading the Alamo project, McDonald helmed the Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Cincinnati Museum Center, and produced award-winning exhibits on African American history and the history of the civil rights movement. He called for an inclusive and complete telling of the Alamo’s history as well as the civil rights history of San Antonio.
In order to be complete, it must be accurate.
The great news is that there is no reason to choose between the histories told, they should all be told, fully and accurately. The civil rights history of San Antonio can be told where it happened, the Kress building, just a few blocks away or even the Gibbs Hotel just across the street which also had a lunch counter. It can be a much larger, broader, and fuller telling of the local history of integration.
AND the best place to tell the world-renowned and world-changing history of the Alamo, can and should be told where that history happened on the footprint of the Alamo battlefield and mission.
McDonald’s speech was very well received, interrupted several times by applause from the more than 400 in attendance. He received a standing ovation when he concluded.
The world has but one Alamo. It is the Cradle of Texas Liberty, the place where about 189 Tejanos and Texians sacrificed their lives for the freedom we are still perfecting and protecting today.
The project underway requires leadership that understands the full history of the site, as well as the political undercurrents and agendas attempting to shape and rewrite history today.
(Note: Both Mr. McDonald and I were involved in the previous plan, he as the CEO and I as its spokesman and a member of the Alamo Master Plan Management Committee.)