Friday, April 23, 2010

Friends of John Nance Garner Dinner, Uvalde

(l. to r.) Don Carleton, Light Cummins, Patrick Cox, Bob Dodson
The annual banquet of the Friends of the John Nance Garner Museum was held last night at the civic center in Uvalde, Texas. The Garner Museum is one of the component parts of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Bob Dodson of Uvalde served as master of ceremonies. Don Carleton, director of the Dolph Briscoe Center, and Patrick Cox of the Briscoe Center also appeared on the program. Former Vice President John Nance Garner and former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. are both from Uvalde, Texas. It was my pleasure to be the guest speaker at this banquet. The title of my talk was "Every Texan is Their Own Historian." I noted that both John Nance Garner and Dolph Briscoe, Jr., had played signal roles in Texas history. Vice President Garner’s life spanned much of Texas history and he lived through much of the history we teach. He lived by a simple credo during his many years, which he summed up when he said: “Whatever it costs you to keep your word, the price is reasonable.” As Governor of Texas, Dolph Briscoe’s measured confidence, honestly, patience, and hard work combined to reinvigorate a moral purpose to Texas, and that was based on our historical principles as a people. His commitment to education, for example, reinvigorated our classrooms. He helped us to understand who we are as people, where we had come from, and how to reassess where we were going in the future. As two favorite sons of Uvalde, they each have had enduring impact on the history of Texas.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

14th Annual Cotton and Rural History Conference

Yesterday, I delivered the keynote talk at the 14th Annual Cotton & Rural History Conference, held at Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum, Greenville, Texas. The conference is sponsored each year by the Department of History, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Collin College, and the Archives and Oral History Program, Texas A&M University – Commerce. Kyle Wilkison of Collin College and James Conrad of Texas A&M University – Commerce were the directors of the Conference. Dr. Conrad ( at right) opened the conference with a talk on his award-winning study he co-authored with Thad Sitton on African American rural communities in Texas. Published by the University of Texas Press, Freedom Colonies explores the triumph of independence these land-owning communities represented during an era noted for oppression and denial of opportunity to African Americans. The title of his talk was "Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow." He discussed some of the post-Civil War communities of African-Americans that appeared in the north Texas area. Michelle M. Mears gave an overview of her “And Grace Will Lead Me Home: African American Freedmen Communities in Austin, Texas, 1865-1928” published by Texas Tech University Press in 2009. A native of Austin, Mears – who is currently the university archivist at the University of North Texas, has been researching and writing about Austin’s historic freedmen communities since 2000. She became interested in the topic while working on a master’s thesis and has been engaged in extensive research about local African American history at the Austin History Center for years. Mears is University Archivist at the University of North Texas in Denton. Prior to her arrival in Denton in 2006, she worked as a grant archivist at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for two years, served as agency librarian for the Texas Historical Commission for five years, and worked for eight years as the archivist at Scott and White Memorial Hospital in Temple, where she established the archives for the 110-year-old hospital. My talk was entitled "The Austin Family and the Foundations of Cotton Culture in Antebellum Texas." I surveyed the various plantations that members of the Stephen F. Austin family established in Texas during the antebellum period, including Peach Point, Bolivar, Durazno, and several others. My main discussion centered on the observation that the Austin family played a significant role in establishing the cotton culture in Texas during the years before the Civil War.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

San Jacinto Day Dinner in Houston, Texas

Last night, April 14th, I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at the annual San Jacinto Day Dinner sponsored by the San Jacinto Monument and Museum. It was held at the Houston Country Club. As guests arrived, a period fife and drum corps played music associated with the era of the Texas Revolution, including the famous peice "Come to the Bower." Well over five hundred people attended this event, which is held each year to advance the causes of the San Jacinto Museum. Houston civic leaders Reed and Laurie Morian served as the chairs of the dinner. Robert S. Hixson served as the master of ceremonies for the occasion. I was particularly gratified that former Texas Governor Mark White, at right, attended and complimented me on my talk. The Battle of San Jacinto thus set in motion a century and three quarters of history that has produced the modern state of Texas that we know today. What interests me, however, is not so much the actual Battle of San Jacinto, which is of course important in its own right. Instead, I am vitally interested in the history of Texas that this battle set in motion and, as part of that, how we choose to remember that battle and the manner by which we celebrate it today. Here in Texas our uniqueness is based on our history. The uniqueness of Texas today surrounds us in our music, our literature, our architecture, our art, our recreational pastimes, our styles of dress, what we choose to put in our museums and what we don’t, who we choose as our leaders, and in a thousand other ways that touch our daily live as Texans. I would submit that what happened on the battlefield at San Jacinto is crucial in setting in motion such views of Texas uniqueness. We now know what earlier generations of Texans did not much notice; namely, that the Battle of San Jacinto was a two-sided historical drama that speaks to us today with a much louder and more vigorous multicultural voice that Texans were previously used to hearing when the emphasis fell only on the Texian side. Very good, well-researched, and timely histories of San Jacinto from the Tejano viewpoint are being written today, and other fine studies are also appearing which examine military events, such as the march through the Sea of Mud, from the perspective of the Mexican army. Now, in our own time, San Jacinto has the potential to speak of all Texans.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference

On Saturday, April 10th, the Austin College History Department and its Alpha My Rho Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta hosted the Northeast/North Central Texas regional meeting. Over 100 students and 20 faculty members representing 16 colleges and universities in Texas and Oklahoma gathered for this meeting, which was held in the Wright Campus Center. Phi Alpha Theta is an international scholarly society for undergraduate and graduate students that bring students, teachers, and writers of history together for intellectual and social exchange. Austin College history professor I am the sponsor for the Austin College chapter. The keynote presentation for the day, “How to Become a Famous* Historian” was presented by Dr. Jean Stuntz of West Texas A&M University, (at left) who is the president of the H-Net system, which is the major collection of Web sites and discussions groups that ties together the academic historical community in the United States. Dr. Stuntz enlightened almost 125 people at the luncheon with useful tips on getting into graduate school in history, along with advice for success there and in one’s career as historians. Conference officials included Austin College students Victoria Sheppard, registration director; Brendan Kelleher, session manager. Austin Tooley, a 2009 Austin College graduate, presented a plenary session dealing with the making of his documentary film “Emily Austin: Sister to an Empire,” which was his senor honors project

Friday, April 9, 2010

Allie V. Tennant Speech at the Hall of State

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at a Member's Only Evening at the Dallas Historical Society, held in the beautiful restored main auditorium of the Hall of State at Fair Park. I was introduced by the executive director of the DHS, Jack Bunning, who is a well-known figure in Dallas historical circles. My talk was arranged by Dealey Campbell of the society. It was good to meet and chat with the supporters of the Dallas Historical Society who attended. I found it an interesting experience to give a biographical talk on Allie V. Tennant at the Hall of State because she was the Dallas sculptor who in 1936 made the grand statute of the Tejas Warrior that stands over the main entrance to that landmark building. A special treat, and unexpectedly grand surprise to me, was to meet Carmen Aguiere, the niece of man who had posed for Miss Tennant as the model for this statue. In my talk, I reviewed Ms. Tennant's career from her high school years through the 1920s and 1930s, the time that she emerged as an important Texas sculptor. The Tejas Warrior has become one of the iconic symbols of the city of Dallas and constitutes her best-known work.