In his analysis of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Texas town of Alamo, University of Texas (UT) history professor Walter Buenger alleged that the symbol of the famous battle has taken on racist meaning.
“It became in some ways a sort of symbol of Anglo-Saxon preeminence,” Buenger told a USA Today reporter. “The Alamo became this symbol of what it meant to be white.”
Buenger, a mainstay on the syllabuses of Texas history courses at some public Texas universities, holds the role of chief historian at the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), a prominent nonprofit founded in 1897 to foster the appreciation of Texas History. The online encyclopedia Handbook of Texas takes first prize as TSHA’s most commonly read publication.
“[Trump] wants to sort of tap into this theme of the Alamo as a defining moment in American history and the triumph of Anglo-Saxon civilization and the move west,” Buenger said of Trump’s visit.
“It is again tapping into a defense of white privilege.”
“Any time the media needs a credentialed someone to sound off on Texas history, they go to Buenger because he’s a reliable source of talking points. He also occupies the two most visible positions of authority on Texas history,” Haas said.
Buenger’s remarks should be untwined from the thornier revisionist theories of a fellow UT professor quoted alongside him in the USA Today article. While Buenger argued that racists have rolled the Alamo into their own mythologies, his colleague called the site itself “the largest statue to the Confederacy in this country” and said Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna besieged the mission not to conquer his subjects but instead to free slaves.
The TSHA has not quite attained the peak of authority in Texas History circles, though it enjoys a certain supremacy when it comes to education. The nonprofit TSHA, though prominent, should not be confused with the Texas Historical Commission (THC), an official government body less prone to racial interpretations and burdened with duties that include designations for historic sites. The TSHA, on the other hand, abides by certain diversity principles and has produced spin-off encyclopedias that include the Handbook of African American Texas, Handbook of Texas Women, and Handbook of Tejano History.
The clash between traditional and revisionist views of the Alamo has brought proposed renovations of the site to a grinding halt. The open iconoclasm of Roberto Treviño, a San Antonio city councilman and leader of the renovation project, tainted the plan’s reputation among citizen testifiers and failed to convince a skeptical THC to approve the permit for moving the Alamo cenotaph.
Defenders of the Alamo counted Hispanics among their ranks, most of them native Texans who joined the war under Juan Seguin. Buenger has encouraged the acknowledgment of Hispanic and freedmen participation in milestones of Texas heroism while decrying unified, romantic views of the state’s past.
“The greatest example of the lack of ambiguity,” Buenger wrote of the Texas State History Museum, “is the reduction of all Texans — not just Tejanos — to one single category despite racial, ethnic, religious, or class differences.”
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