Noting that the term for the current Texas State Historical Association chief historian has expired, state Sen. Mayes Middleton is calling on the University of Texas at Austin to appoint a replacement who hasn’t belittled the Alamo defenders and early Texas residents.
Chief Historian Walter Buenger, Ph.D., has been chief historian for the TSHA since 2017.
“As a historian, the Chief Historian should be actively promoting Texas history and encouraging student engagement with our state’s rich history in a way that does not try to rewrite it,” Middleton wrote in a letter to UT-Austin Dean of Liberal Arts, who appoints the chief historian to the quasi-governmental TSHA.
“Mr. Buenger frequently paints our exceptional Texas history in a negative light and even wrote a positive review of the despicable book, ‘Forget the Alamo,’ claiming that our beloved battle cry ‘Remember the Alamo’ is ‘wartime propaganda,’” Middleton wrote. “Further, he claims that our history surrounding the Alamo is the ‘heroic Anglo narrative.’ There are many such examples of Mr. Buenger attacking or marginalizing Texas history.”
Buenger has also claimed the Alamo story has been “misused” by Texans to “commemorate whiteness.”
The Texas State Historical Association has been rocked in recent months by efforts by Buenger and other board members to push out TSHA Executive Director J.P. Bryan, a lifelong member of the group who has financially bailed out the nonprofit time and time again. Bryan, whose ancestors fought in the Texas Revolution, was deemed insufficiently woke to lead the organization. When some TSHA board members called a meeting with the intention of firing Bryan, he sued—and won a stay.
The TSHA is a nonprofit that publishes academic journals, holds conferences and publishes both the Handbook of Texas and the Texas Almanac. It plays a significant role in how the history of Texas is taught in the Lone Star State’s public schools, but Bryan and other observers believe the TSHA has lurched leftward, losing supporters, donors—and relevance.
The TSHA’s bylaws stipulate that the board must be balanced between academics and non-academics (like Bryan). But in recent years, the board has become more and more dominated by academics, who are predictably left-leaning. Bryan is asking that the TSHA conform to its own bylaws.
“Non-academics make up about 90% of our membership, and about 99% of our donors,” Bryan said. “I don’t think that most of our membership wants to support a woke organization. It’s just that simple. We all love Texas and Texas history. We’re not about tearing down statues; we’re about building up Texas.”
Bryan and the TSHA announced last week that the case will go to mediation. Bryan’s attorney, Eric Lipper, doesn’t hold out much hope for an amicable agreement. Lipper told the Houston Chronicle that mediation is most useful when two parties are merely trying to reach an agreement on a dollar amount. But Bryan isn’t asking for any money.
“This is a case where it’s not about paying money, but coming to a resolution on how to get the board balanced,” Lipper said.
For his part, Sen. Middleton says that Buenger’s hostility to Texas history make him inappropriate for the role of chief historian.
“I expect swift action to be taken to ensure this affront does not continue,” Middleton wrote. “The Texas State Historical Association needs a new Chief Historian, one that promotes Texas history and the exceptionalism of this great state.”
For more on the Texas State Historical Association, read this.