By Brian Delay, PhD
University of California, Berkeley
“Refusing to Forget is a tonic for all of us.”
Lawrence Wright tells us that America’s future is Texas. We’ll see. What we can say for sure right now is that America’s past is Texas. Texas history is American history, in all caps. Take any number of topics that U.S. historians are preoccupied with today. Slavery, indigenous peoples, settler colonialism, white supremacy, borderlands and borders, immigration, civil rights and activism, capitalism, labor, environmental history, energy, climate change, conservatism, gender politics, urban segregation, voting rights, federalism, state power, inequality: it’s all there in Texas’s past tense–fierce, amped up, and SHOUTING.
So why don’t we hear it? Rather than see Texas as the cutting edge of American history, the place where we point ambitious graduate students looking for crackerjack topics, too many academic historians consider it peripheral, atypical, as merely regional. Texans themselves invest far more time and money into their history than the residents of any other state. But too often the results are stale, safe narratives that obscure Texas’s history even as they celebrate it.
Refusing to Forget is a tonic for all of us. Marrying deep scholarship with a passion for public history, the project explores a grotesque spasm of interethnic violence in Texas between 1910 and 1920 and chronicles the resulting struggle for justice. For American historians unfamiliar with the story, the site should compel some reflection about why so many of us still consider Texas ignorable. For the many Texans who care so deeply about their shared past, Refusing to Forget will shock, sadden, enrage, enlighten, and challenge. And for all of us living in Trump’s America, this project offers a harrowing, necessary reminder of the demons that can be loosed by racism and political fear mongering about the border – and of the courage required to face them.
The team behind Refusing to Forget is just getting started; they deserve our support. I donated to the project because I was so inspired by what they’ve already done with the site, with the museum exhibit, and with the public outreach. I’m eager to see what they’ll do next. Now more than ever we need the passion, power, and clarity of the best public history to cut through the simple, divisive stories we’re continually bombarded with. Maybe America’s future really is Texas. If that’s true, we’d all better start paying more attention to Texas’s past. So do yourself and your country a favor. Spend some time on the site, and then make adonation.