By Michelle Haas – Copano Bay Press
All of my life, I’ve wanted to see the Alamo in full: the whole panoply of the siege and battle. I understand the facts just fine, but I can’t quite place myself there. Movies don’t help. Sketches don’t work. I need to go to a place and plant my feet there to fully understand a battle.
So when rumors began swirling again about an Alamo makeover – one that would entail restoring the battlefield footprint and repair the Church – I was elated. There have been many twists and turns in the Alamo restoration saga. Every group wants their story to be at the fore, but every story can’t be at the fore.
The current plan to restore the battlefield footprint does address the full history of Alamo Plaza but it puts the emphasis on 1836, where it belongs. This is rubbing some people the wrong way.
The latest logjam is brought to you by politicians and activists who claim that restoring the Alamo footprint to 1836 disrespects a whole bunch of other history. One group is suing because they claim the entire area is an Indian burial ground. (It’s not.) Then there’s the alleged disrespect of the Civil Rights era. (There is none.)
In early 1960, black and white Americans alike could shop in department and dime stores. They could both visit the lunch counters in these stores and order food, but blacks were not permitted to sit and eat. So black activists began occupying these verboten lunch counter seats across the South, in silent protest. Some of these protests turned violent.
At that time in San Antonio, the NAACP threatened sit-down protests at downtown lunch counters. Business leaders opted not to risk the disruption and possible violence, and voluntarily integrated the lunch counters in 7 downtown businesses. Now black and white Texans could eat pie together if they wished.
The Woolworth building (now home to Ripley’s and other tacky attractions) must be demolished for Texans and visitors from every corner of the globe to see Alamo Plaza in full. But Woolworth’s was among the 7 businesses where pie could be enjoyed by all races harmoniously in 1960.
What about the other six? Five were located in stores along nearby Houston Street. The present owners of the Kress Building, which housed the first integrated lunch counter downtown, have offered the first floor of it – for free – to house a Civil Rights museum.
Integrated dining was a significant hurdle cleared in the larger Civil Rights fight, and the story is a part of our historical fabric that deserves telling. How we arrived at equality should be of interest to all Texans. A large museum in a historically relevant building seems ideal, right?
The activists want Woolworth’s, too. Not because it was first or more significant than the six others choices, but because it faces the Alamo. Because of “equity” and “inclusivity.” Said art historian Dr. Kathryn O’Rourke, speaking at a 2020 symposium held to discuss Woolworth’s:
It’s true that the lunch counter is gone. It’s true that you can’t “see” the history of the civil rights movement in the building now. But there is a lot of history that we can’t see. And in fact, we know that the histories, and the places, and spaces, of people who weren’t in power, or whose stories proved inconvenient or uncomfortable to the ones who were, have often been allowed to disappear, or made to disappear.
In other words, because slavery and Jim Crow existed before, the Alamo battlefield shouldn’t be revealed in full now. Because modern academics have fever dreams of the Shrine of Texas Liberty as a “commemoration of whiteness,” we can’t get rid of Woolworth to see the full Alamo.
The reason we remember the Alamo is 1836. We don’t remember it because people could enjoy pie together in 1960. We remember it because of what it meant (and still means) that men defended those walls and died defending them.
William Barret Travis wrote his Victory or Death letter near the spot where the Woolworth Building, devoid of a lunch counter or any tangible trace of Civil Rights era, now stands. Millions of people each year visit the grounds because of that letter and what it meant. Not because of integrated pie.
There are 7 historic lunch counters in downtown San Antonio. The world only has one Alamo.
This summer we’ll fight to take back the West Wall and liberate it from the Woolworth building. We’ll be naming names and calling out the folks who are peddling bad history. We’ll be asking you to help us raise a cry to let the bureaucrats and activists know that we remember the Alamo…not Woolworth’s.
Categories: Texas Architecture, Texas Destinations, Texas Heroes, The Alamo