In the 1930s, the WPA hired writers to interview people who had been enslaved and this project resulted in the WPA Slave Narratives. Above are three photos of Texans who survived life in slavery: William Adams, age 90: Rosa Washington who lived in El Paso; and Sarah Ashley, age 93. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A few years ago, my granddaughter came home after school to tell me they were learning Texas history. "It's Texas Independence day," she said. I asked her what that meant and she answered, "freedom!" I sat her down and told her: "For your African American ancestors, it meant slavery. For your Mexican ancestors, it meant violence and losing their land. For your Indigenous ancestors, it meant death." I remember she sat in silence for a while. That is not how her teacher described it.
Every March 2, I think about the way Texas history is taught and what people *think* Texas independence represents.
#TexasIndependenceDay is the top trending hashtag on Twitter right now with 19.2 K tweets. Celebratory tweets about Texas. Freedom.
I took a look at the Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836) to see what "Texas independence meant." What I found:
Sec. 9 * Enslaved people would remain enslaved. * There would be no prohibition about bringing in new enslaved people into Texas. * "No free person of African descent, either in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently int he republic without the consent of Congress." Think about that one-- if you were a free Black, you had to leave Texas.
Sec. 10. "All persons (Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted) who were residing in Texas on the day of the declaration of independence shall be considered citizens of the republic and entitled to all the privileges of such." At the time of independence, there were about 5,000 enslaved people in Texas. By 1845, it had risen to 30,000. By 1865, A slave owner could not free his slaves without the approval of Congress and Congress was forbidden from passing a law that forbade slavery.
Anyone with one great grandparent of African ancestry could not vote, own property, testify against a white person or marry a white person.
When I think of Texas Independence Day, I don't think of freedom. Rather, I think of the thousands of enslaved people who were forced to work in Texas, their struggles to gain their freedom, and the history of resilience that they represent.