A committee charged with producing a “patriotic” telling of Texas history approved a 15-page pamphlet last month that will now be distributed to new Texas drivers.
The advisory committee — named the 1836 Project after the year Texas gained its independence from Mexico — was created last year with the passing of House Bill 2497. The legislation required the committee to tell a story of “a legacy of economic prosperity” and the “abundant opportunities for businesses and families, among other requirements.”
“We must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place,” Gov. Greg Abbott said when he signed the bill. Abbott, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, later selected a nine-member, largely conservative group to head the 1836 Project.
The creation of the committee was largely a conservative backlash to The New York Times’ publication of “The 1619 Project,” which was named after the year enslaved people first arrived on American soil and aimed to center slavery in conversations about U.S. history. The pamphlet, which will be distributed at driver’s license offices, comes at a time when the state is increasingly trying to regulate how race, sexuality and history are taught in public schools.
The Texas Tribune reviewed the 1836 Project committee’s final pamphlet and asked historians to comment on how accurately and thoroughly the document chronicles the state’s history.
The historians acknowledged that the committee had a difficult assignment; Donald Frazier, the chair of the subcommittee in charge of drafting the pamphlet, called squeezing the entirety of the state’s history into little more than a dozen pages a “herculean task.”
But the historians also noted that condensing the state’s history and painting it in a mostly celebratory light came at a cost. The pamphlet, they said, fails to fully hold institutions accountable for slavery and other forms of oppression and shortchanged Indigenous Texans, Tejanos, Black Texans and women.
The pamphlet engages with contemporary research — like literature about the lasting impact of the Confederacy — but also tries to fulfill state lawmakers’ wish to promote “patriotic education” and avoid disturbing Texas’ myths, said Raúl A. Ramos, a history professor at the University of Houston.
“The traditional mythic version of Texas history, it’s about the heroes of the Alamo having pure intentions of liberty and freedom in the abstract rather than the liberty to conquer Indigenous and Mexican lands and freedom to own enslaved people,” Ramos said. “It’s that abstract idea that is attractive and powerful and [that’s what] people gravitate towards, and I think that’s what people associate with patriotism.”