Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Forget the Alamo (and the White Supremacist History You Learned in School)

School children in Texas are required to learn about the “Heroes of the Alamo.” But that is a white supremacist myth that the so-called “Texas Revolution” was fought in defense of slavery.

Nathaniel Flakin

June 30, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share

Growing up in Texas, I had to take a full year of Texas History, a sizable chunk of which was dedicated to the “Texas Revolution” of 1835–36. We were taught to “Remember the Alamo!” The names of the white men who died there were drilled into us: William B. Travis, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie…

But they never explained what exactly the Texians were fighting for. Why were they willing to sacrifice their lives to secure independence from Mexico? The Mexican government, they said, was “oppressive” and they wanted “freedom” — but what does that mean? 

Anglo settlers were invited to the Mexican province of Tejas, as the government in Mexico City was looking to populate its northern provinces and conquer the indigenous peoples there. A condition was that settlers would speak Spanish in public. But was this rule so “oppressive” that people were willing to die over it? Especially considering that many who celebrate the Alamo today believe that immigrants to the United States should only speak English?

I only learned what the “Texians” were actually fighting for many years later. Kurt Vonnegut, in his 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, wrote: 

I might have added, but didn’t, that the martyrs at the Alamo had died for the right to own slaves. They didn’t want to be a part of Mexico anymore because it was against the law in that country to own slaves of any kind.

Vonnegut’s passage is true. Mexico’s government had abolished slavery in 1829 and was attempting to enforce the ban in its northern province. The leaders of Mexico’s independence had tried to get rid of slavery as early as 1810. Today, this truth is well hidden. In the permanent exhibition at the Alamo today, there is only a single reference to slavery, tucked away at the bottom of a display in the back.

The “martyrs of the Alamo” were indeed fighting for “freedom” — their “freedom” to own human beings! The aid that the U.S. government provided for these settlers proves the Texan “independence” was part of a long campaign to conquer territory for slave plantations.

These Anglo separatists were, tragically, successful. It would take another 30 years and a further war to abolish slavery in the region. Juneteenth now serves as a reminder that Texas was the last place in the United States where Black people remained enslaved.

Black Lives Matter has led to a massive shift in consciousness in the United States. Millions of people are looking at the country’s history of racism, colonialism, and imperialism with new eyes. Last year, anti-racist slogans were sprayed on the Alamo Cenotaph dedicated to these enslavers. This led to mobilizations by heavily armed white supremacists. The monuments to Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and their ilk are every bit as offensive as monuments to the Confederacy.

The Alamo myth, as we know it today, was created by a Disney series from 1954–55 and a terrible movie by John Wayne from 1960. Today, in a state where Latinos almost outnumber white people, this myth serves to reinforce white supremacy. Children are taught that the Mexicans were not only bloodthirsty, but also lazy — another famous element of the story is that the Mexican army was defeated because they all took a siesta. This myth is combined with racist conspiracy theories about working-class immigrants from Mexico attempting to reconquer the territories — as if they were planning to do what the Anglo settlers had once done.

A time of great upheaval will inevitably produce great art. It can only be hoped that we will see new films and TV series about the Alamo, from the opposite perspective, showing the stories of brave Mexican soldiers fighting for liberty against the evil enslavers. The Mexican soldiers putting down the Anglo separatist revolt deserve just as much honor today as Union soldiers fighting to defeat the slaver class in the South.

This would also be a good opportunity to remember the St. Patrick’s Battalion. This unit was made of Irish immigrants who were sent to fight in the U.S. army’s war of conquest against Mexico in 1846–48. They defected, and alongside escaped slaves and other immigrants, the San Patricios fought on the Mexican side. David Rovics has a moving ballad about them.

Hopefully, kids growing up in Texas won’t have to learn these racist myths anymore. They will learn that “freedom fighter” William B. Travis was in fact an enslaver. After he was — justifiably — executed, the Mexican forces liberated Travis’s slave, a man only known to history as Joe who later escaped from bondage.

Perhaps in the not too distant future, downtown San Antonio will see new monuments dedicated to the Mexican troops fighting for liberation. And who knows? After that, maybe people will want to rename cities dedicated to enslavers like Houston and Austin.

Facebook Twitter Share

Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from New York City. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which appeared last year in German and this year in English. He is on the autism spectrum.

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

United States

Pro-Palestine protesters at a march in Philadelphia. Palestinian flags in the background while someone holds up a sign that says "Freedom for Palestine."

Temple University Rank and Filers Release Palestine Solidarity Statement

Rank and filers at Temple University in Philly are demanding their union local and national fight to end all support for Israel and join the cause of Palestinian workers.

Jason Koslowski

August 3, 2021
An older woman wearing a hat holds a sign that reads "No More Unjust Revictions: I Lost My Home of 36 Years"

Eviction Moratorium Expired, Millions Face Homelessness

After a half-hearted attempt to extend the eviction moratorium failed, the House of Representatives left for summer vacation.

Emma Lee

August 2, 2021

Pandemic Profiteers: Pfizer Profits Exceed $10 Billion in Six Months

Pfizer has announced record profits as a result of vaccine sales. While the world is in crisis, pharmaceutical companies are raking in billions of dollars from advance contracts and by preventing the release of patents.

Juan Andrés Gallardo

August 1, 2021

Biden Is Expediting Deportations of Migrant Families

The Biden administration added another repressive measure against migrants on top of Donald Trump's already draconian Title 42. Now border patrol agents have the right to decide asylum cases.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

July 29, 2021

MOST RECENT

Four healthcare workers, including co-author of this article Mike Pappas, stand in scrubs and masks in front of an Amazon warehouse holding signs in support of better wages and safer working conditions for Amazon workers.

What Billionaire Space Flights Mean to Healthcare Workers

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage around the globe and climate disaster is destroying the planet, billionaires are taking joyrides to space. Two healthcare workers who worked throughout the pandemic respond.

Mike Pappas

August 2, 2021
Image of rubble and a lot of smoke in the background. People stand in front of the wreckage.

Joe Biden is Bombing Somalia

Despite claims to reduce drone strikes, Joe Biden is bombing Somalia.

K.S. Mehta

August 1, 2021

Coldest Weather in Decades Hits Brazil — Climate Change Is to Blame

This month, on the heels of the country’s worst drought in a century, Brazil has experienced historic cold weather. The effects on agriculture could have negative consequences across the world.

Otto Fors

July 30, 2021
On the left, the front cover of Argentine Marxist Juan Dal Maso's book Hegemony and Class Struggle. On the right, Dal Maso sits at a desk wearing a black sweater, mid-speech.

A Welcome and Necessary Encounter Between Trotsky and Gramsci

The following is Warren Montag's foreword to the new book by Argentinian Marxist Juan Dal Maso entitled "Hegemony and Class Struggle. Trotsky, Gramsci and Marxism" released by Palgrave Publishing House on July 28th.