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Best-Selling Book Helps Recast The Historic Battle At The Alamo

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

A new book is recasting the question - do you remember the Alamo? - to, how do you remember the Alamo? The authors argued that a significant driver for Texas independence was the expansion of slavery.

Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE ALAMO")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The Alamo - recreating the 13 glorious days of the siege history will never forget. And you will always remember the Alamo.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: That was John Wayne's "The Alamo," a 1960 film that he produced, directed and starred in as the iconic Davy Crockett. Wayne's film crystallized and popularized the myth of white martyrs of liberty, which was ripe for Cold War consumption.

Chris Tomlinson, co-author of "Forget The Alamo: The Rise And Fall Of An American Myth," says, the old Alamo story is a Jim Crow southern fantasy.

CHRIS TOMLINSON: That's what it is when you boil it down. And it's not accurate. And it's not helpful.

DAVIES: The book debunks the old Alamo story, a white supremacist narrative.

TOMLINSON: I'd like to call it Confederate race theory in that - let's keep the monuments. Let's honor our war dead. But God forbid we ever talk about what they were fighting for.

DAVIES: The Alamo became an important political symbol. It was here that the National Tea Party movement was launched in 2009, complete with conservative provocateur Ted Nugent playing the national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER")

DAVIES: "Forget The Alamo" hit a nerve in Texas, and particularly in San Antonio, home of the Alamo. Recently, Tomlinson joined co-authors Bryan Burrough and Jason Stanford for a forum at the Bexar County Courthouse.

In the audience, Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzales told how when she was a child, she was introduced to the Alamo myth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSIE SPEEDLIN GONZALEZ: We walked over to the Alamo. And my Mom was forever my Dad's translator because my Dad was a Mexican federal - Mexican citizen. And he kept asking my Mom, (speaking Spanish). And as she was retelling the history, my brother and I felt my Dad's hands on our shoulders and then on our wrists. And he dragged us out of the Alamo.

DAVIES: Gonzales said her father told her mother to never take them back because it was a place of lies.

At the book event, there were detractors of "Forget The Alamo," including former Texas land commissioner Jerry Patterson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY PATTERSON: Well, it's not true. It's an opinion. It's an op-ed.

DAVIES: Patterson is highly critical of the book but admits Texas history over the last century has been too kind to the famous Alamo defenders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATTERSON: But if you came here and you died, that's a little bit of redemption. And you died for something that had very little to do with slavery.

DAVIES: The facts are in 1829, Mexico abolished slavery. After Texas won independence, the Republic of Texas made slavery legal. But those facts don't keep the tourists away from visiting the Alamo in the middle of San Antonio's hectic downtown.

Jim Mendiola is an independent filmmaker and has made a documentary about his personal relationship as a Mexican American with the Alamo.

JIM MENDIOLA: What I'm more interested in is the creation of the Alamo myth and what happened after the Battle of the Alamo and how the myth was used to sort of perpetuate this white Anglo supremacy, the subjugation of Mexicans.

DAVIES: But the Alamo isn't like a Confederate monument that can be toppled. Only now we're getting better answers to - what were they really fighting for?

For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "YOU GO UP, I GO DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.