Posted on May 11, 2021

Alamo Renovation Gets Stuck Over Arguments About Slavery

Richard Webner, Washington Post, May 9, 2021

The Alamo needs a makeover; on that, at least, everyone agrees. Plaster is flaking off the walls of the nearly 300-year-old former Spanish mission, the most revered battle site in Texas history. Its one-room exhibit space can hold only a fraction of key artifacts. And the surrounding plaza is a tourist circus, packed with novelty shops and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.

But Texans are deeply divided over how, exactly, to remember the Alamo. A $450 million plan to renovate the site has devolved into a five-year brawl over whether to focus narrowly on the 1836 battle or present a fuller view that delves into the site’s Indigenous history and the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution.

Generations of Texas schoolchildren have been taught to admire the Alamo defenders as revolutionaries slaughtered by the Mexican army in the fight for Texas independence. But several were enslavers, including William B. Travis and Davy Crockett — an inconvenient fact in a state where textbooks have only acknowledged since 2018 that slavery was at issue in the Civil War.


Key members of the state’s GOP leadership and some conservative groups are insisting that the renovation stay focused on the battle. A bill introduced by 10 Republican state lawmakers would bar the overhaul from citing any reasons for the Texas Revolution beyond those mentioned in the Texas Declaration of Independence — which does not include slavery.

“If they want to bring up that it was about slavery, or say that the Alamo defenders were racist, or anything like that, they need to take their rear ends over the state border and get the hell out of Texas,” said Brandon Burkhart, president of the This is Freedom Texas Force, a conservative group that held an armed protest last year in Alamo Plaza.

Democratic elected officials in San Antonio want the Alamo story to be told from other perspectives. Indigenous leaders, for example, want the site to show respect for its ancient role as a burial ground. Meanwhile, historians argue that support for slavery was indeed a motivating factor for the Texas Revolution, a fact that should be acknowledged at the site, even if it tarnishes some giants of Texas history.


The original plan, announced in 2017, called for repairing the Alamo, fixing up the plaza and building a world-class museum for artifacts, including a collection donated by rock musician Phil Collins, an Alamo enthusiast. It represented a rare alliance between the state’s Republican leadership and one of its more liberal cities, with San Antonio committing $38 million to the budget and the state of Texas pitching in $106 million. {snip}

But aspects of the plan quickly met with outrage, especially its treatment of the Cenotaph, a 56-foot monument to Alamo defenders erected in the plaza in 1940.

Under the plan, the Cenotaph would be moved 500 feet south and deposited in front of the historic Menger Hotel. The idea was to make the plaza “period neutral” and help visitors imagine how the Alamo looked as a mission and fort. But conservative groups rallied in armed protest and turned up at public meetings chanting “Not one inch!”

State leaders took up the cause, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who has closely aligned himself with former president Donald Trump. {snip}

Meanwhile, Alamo Plaza became a focus of San Antonio’s Black Lives Matter protests. Last summer, the Cenotaph was spray-painted with graffiti decrying white supremacy.

The struggle over the Cenotaph ended in September when the Texas Historical Commission, a state board whose members are appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), voted to deny a permit to move it. Nearly half of the board members of the nonprofit raising funds for the Alamo renovation resigned in protest — raising doubts about where the rest of money would come from.