Home Susan Yerkes The unforgettable Alamo

The unforgettable Alamo

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Following years of stops and starts, plans to preserve and maintain the Alamo are moving forward. After the Texas Historical Commission’s refusal to allow the Cenotaph, that 60-foot marble monument commemorating the Alamo defenders, to be moved from its prominent spot in Alamo Plaza, the ambitious plan to “reimagine” the Alamo stalled.

But it’s back on track, for the present.

A big infusion of money is key. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has promised $50 million from the state, and Bexar County commissioners have pledged another $25 million over the next five years. Hope Andrade, a leader with decades of political experience, is chair of the Alamo Management Committee overseeing the project. Former District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, who claims Alamo defender Jose Toribio Losoya as an ancestor, is the vice chair.

There are a lot of groups involved in this endeavor: the state, the historical commission, San Antonio, Bexar County, the Alamo Trust (charged with fundraising), the Alamo Management Committee and its executive committee, the Alamo Advisory Group and the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee. The biggest point of agreement for all is the importance of preserving and maintaining the historic Alamo building.

Other issues remain to be fought over — and they will be.

It’s good news that Alamo Plaza, which some early planners wanted to close off, will remain open. It’s also wonderful to hear the historic Woolworth and Crockett buildings across the street from the Alamo will be preserved. Advocacy groups have been lobbying to save those buildings, which are also part of San Antonio history.

The Woolworth building now represents a bright spot in the saga of the struggle for civil rights. It was one of seven downtown lunch counters during the early 1960s.

On March 7, 1960, Black customers were served along with whites. The moment thrust San Antonio into the national news. Jackie Robinson, the first Black player to join a Major League Baseball team, told the New York Times the story “should be told around the world.” The Woolworth building is the only one of those seven lunch counters still identifiable after 60 years.     

Today, when the subjects of racism and diversity have become political flashpoints, the Woolworth lunch counter – still marked by a red-tiled area that was the serving counter and holes in the floor where stools were bolted – is well worth commemorating.

And the story, which was barely remembered by most for decades, still bears retelling as part of the continuing discussion about freedom and inclusion. When museum designer Patrick Gallagher, the program manager for the Alamo Trust, presented some preliminary plans for the Alamo Museum and Visitor Center in May, he stressed the Woolworth building will also house an exhibit on its place in civil rights history.      

There are still big battles ahead for the Alamo. The biggest is bound to be how the story of the Alamo will be presented in the new museum.

In June, a new book with the provocative title “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” drew praise from revisionists and rage from traditionalists. It’s a fascinating, unsettling read. But given the worldwide popularity of the heroic Alamo narrative, it’s unlikely anybody is going to forget the Alamo. It’s also likely the vital role of Tejanos in Texas history, the history of slavery in the state and a host of other issues will be increasingly known and remembered.  Texas is a big, very diverse state, with plenty of powerful myths. There’s room for all our history here.

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