Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Texas Historical Association as the Texas Historical Commission (which led to confusion over the leadership of those groups.) Sister Magdalena of the Blessed Order of Sacred Fact Checking has appropriately whacked Roger's knuckles and locked him in his room until he can focus more on "Perfection in All Things Grammar, Spelling, and Copyediting." Roger vows to do better. We have forgiven him. We hope you will too.
My wonderful wife Karen is very offended that her name has been applied to people whose reaction to any annoyance in life is "I want to speak to someone in charge."
But, begging her forgiveness, I'd like to tell you about the ultimate "Texas Karen," Michelle Haas. And Michelle really wants to see the Alamo's manager. The good folks at Texas Monthly outlined her latest Quixotic windmill tilting in an article in their political section. But, first a bit about Michelle.
Michelle isn't a historian by trade. She is a graphic designer from Corpus Christi but she has assigned herself the task of taking back Texas history from those irksome real historians out there who are all a collection of woke, socialist, revisionist, and apparently, black, heretics.
She formed her own alternate history organization in 2022 called the Texas History Trust, to reclaim our state's history from these lefties and give it back to, John Wayne, apparently.
And her latest crusade has borne fruit. The Varner-Hogg Plantation is a Texas historical site in Brazoria county and dates back to the Varner family who came to Texas in 1824 as one of the "Old 300" original land grantees arranged by Stephen F. Austin. Varner came with his family, livestock and 2 slaves. He was given over 4400 acres to raise sugar cane and distill rum.
The heyday of slavery on the plantation came in 1834, when a fellow named Columbus Patton bought the place and eventually owned 60-some odd slaves, including one named Rachel, who became his mistress. Later, after changes in ownership, and the 1900 hurricane destroying all but the main house, Texas Governor Jim Hogg bought the place as a country home and eventually, Miss Ima Hogg donated it to the state.
Well, on a visit to this Texas Tara, Michelle Haas noticed something disturbing. In the guided tour and in the gift shop, there was way too much slave talk for her taste. She actually wondered why there wasn't more about the white families in the big house? I mean, well, they were rich and owned a bunch of other people who built the house, did all the work, and one of whom they slept with, and...
Well, OK, but they've still been ignored. She also wanted some books removed from the gift shop. How dare they have some of these Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award volumes on the racks? I might be useful to add this from the Texas Monthly article...
In 2006, she cofounded Copano Bay Press, an independent publishing house specializing in firsthand accounts of Texas history. She wrote and published 200 Years a Fraud, a full annotation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir Twelve Years a Slave, which was made into an Oscar-winning film in 2013. In her book, Haas disputes Northup’s account of his life and argues that many U.S. histories are overly harsh to the South and do not acknowledge that slavery was “a socially acceptable and economically worthwhile practice worldwide at the time our thirteen colonies arose.”
May I point out that "12 Years a Slave" was written by the slave himself? But of course, Michelle has the real story.
In fact, in her zeal to absolve the folks in the big house, she mentions in one of her video harangues that one slave narrative mentions a particularly mean overseer. That overseer happened to be black as well, so there you go. The Big House is collectively absolved.
Firstly, as we all know, Jewish prisoners at the death camps, Kapos or Sonderkommanados were forced to work for the Germans to control their fellow prisoners. So, Michelle, did that absolve or even ameliorate the Nazi guilt here?
Besides, haven't you seen Django Unchained?
She pestered the actual Texas Historical Commission with repeated emails and finally, one sympathetic member, David Gravelle, brought it up at a meeting. He also pestered the board and they decided to remove some books from the gift shops at some of the plantation sites in the state. What books?
Titles reportedly removed included: “Remembering the Days of Sorrow,” a book of slave narratives; “Invisible Man,” the Ralph Ellison novel on the Black experience; “Stamped from the Beginning,” a history of racist ideas in American society by Ibram X. Kendi; and “Roots,” the Alex Haley novel famously adapted for television in the 1970s.
Excuse me, but "Roots?" And if you're wondering who the hell is in charge of the real Texas Historical Commission, well, that might indeed provide a clue. The Executive Director is a businessman named John Nau.
And the head of the Texas State Historical Association is J.P. Bryan.
And yes, if you've ever been to Bryan, Texas, he's one of those Bryans. He is a wealthy businessman and GOP donor, and oh yeah, said in 2015 that he suspected President Obama was Muslim.
Anyway, Texas Monthly got hold of some of the emails on the subject from Gravelle, and he was worried that Abbott, Patrick and their gang of Neanderthals in the legislature might get involved.
“I believe we need to take immediate steps to learn the extent of this problem and articulate a remedy, including the source of how this material was approved,” Gravelle wrote in the February email. “There is a good chance it will end up in the open forum of the Lege,” he wrote, adding that he was concerned about “the inevitable press that would be generated due [to] the emotional nature of this national argument if we do not address it quickly. And I mean quickly.”
And they did. I have no information on whether "Gone With the Wind" has been added, though. But, I do hope that Michelle doesn't see the actual Constitution of the Republic of Texas as it pertains to those of a darker hue...
Section 9 of the General Provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, ratified in 1836, made slavery legal again in Texas and defined the status of the enslaved and people of color in the Republic of Texas.
- People of color who had been servants for life under Mexican law would become property.
- Congress should pass no law restricting emigrants from bringing their enslaved people into Texas.
- Congress shall not have the power to emancipate enslaved people.
- Slaveowners may not free their enslaved servants without Congressional approval unless the freed people leave Texas.
- Free persons of African descent were required to petition the Texas Congress for permission to continue living in the country.
- Africans and the descendants of Africans and Indians were excluded from the class of 'persons' having rights.
And yet, she rails against those who contend that the fact that Mexico had outlawed slavery, and was a favorite destination for runaway slaves, was a large motivator for the revolution. In fact, our Texian forbears used a legal fiction to circumvent the law by declaring, and having slaves sign a document, that they were now "indentured servants." Only the servitude was for life.
And if you are still in doubt about where Michelle is coming from, I offer some title cards for her videos...
And so on. Now, I have talked about this before. Here is a link to my thoughts on real versus Hollywood history.
The point I made there and here is, history doesn't scare me. I know that many of the men I essentially admire, had feet of clay in many aspects of their lives. FDR allowed the internment camps, Lincoln wasn't convinced total integration was possible, JFK was a philanderer, Travis deserted his family, Bowie was a slave trader, and my idol Sam Houston, while he opposed secession, had a very mixed record on slavery.
I know all that and my mind can handle those two tracks, just like I can believe in a Creator and his method of creation, evolution. In my conversations on the air with Carl Sagan over the years, he called that a bit of a weasely position, and that same word would be used, no doubt, by ardent fundamentalists. But that's my position and, to me, it makes sense, so sue me.
Now, confronting your real history can be difficult. One of my favorite playwrights is the legendary Sean O'Casey. This is a beat up copy of my favorites that I've had since my drama student days in college. One of his best is "The Plough and the Stars" which was an unstinting look at the Irish working class, warts and all. When performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1926, there were actual riots and people were heard shouting, "There are no whores in Ireland!"
Reality can be tough.
But there are folks, and our Oberleutnant Governor is one of them, who can't handle nuance. Hell, they can't define it. And well you might wonder, why is anyone listening to the ravings of a non-historian, pain in the ass, gadfly?
Well, as much as I disagree with Mr. Gravelle, he was probably right. Given the political atmosphere in our state, where a good business climate trumps (pun intended) mental health care, children's health in general, public education, teacher pay, hunger, climate change, ethics in business and government and facing up to our own history, do we expect any less?
I heartily recommend my colleague Jim Moore's essay this week on the state of our state. It is dead on and depressing as hell.
As for me, well, I confess that I still salute when I drive by the statue. I'm not ready to surrender all my illusions.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.