Friday 29 December 2023

Civil War Rages In Texas As Historians Peddle Leftism Instead Of History

 A battle has broken out in Texas between academic historians and hobbyist history buffs — with the hobbyists advocating for exploring history through primary source material, and the “experts” opting to push modern far-Left politics.

It came to a head this month after a veteran publisher of Texas history books wrote to a member of the Texas Historical Commission, a government body that runs historical sites, with a list of all the books sold at the gift shop of the Levi Jordan plantation outside of Houston. Of the 23 books sold, few had to do with the plantation, Texas history, or slavery in Texas. Instead, many were modern leftist political screeds or unrelated lamentations about black victimhood in other times and places.

They included books about Malcolm X, an “Afro-Vegan Cookbook,” a novel about a black man in Harlem, a book about Chicago’s black slums, and book by radical black feminist author “bell hooks” tackling “racism among feminists.” They also included a book from Frantz Fanon, who posits that violence is necessary for “decolonization,” about “revolutionary struggle, and a continuing influence on movements from Black Lives Matter to decolonization.”

The situation was similar at the nearby Varner-Hogg plantation, where “White Rage” and books by Ibram X. Kendi about diversity, equity, and inclusion were being sold.

Michelle Haas, a veteran publisher of Texas history books who chairs a nonprofit called the Texas History Trust, sent this inventory of the books to the Texas Historical Commission. “I attach a list of the books available with the publisher’s description of each,” she wrote. “You may assess for yourselves how relevant they are to the history of Brazoria County.”

“Why is the State of Texas selling an afro-vegan cookbook at a state historic site? Or fiction about people living in Chicago in the 1890s? What do books written and edited by Ibram X. Kendi have to do with the Varners, Pattons or Hoggs?” Haas asked in another email, referring to the plantations.

In an internal email, a member of the commission, David Gravelle, agreed that some of the materials “are not about accurate Texas history, but seem to wander off into present social issues.” The Commission later pared the inventory at its historic sites — it says for unrelated reasons.

But on December 7, Texas Monthly magazine posted an article with Haas as its main subject. It caused an uproar by twisting the story from one about a woman advocating for more books about Texas slavery at Texas plantations, to one about a white woman who wanted books about slavery banned.

Texas Monthly, writing based on an interview with Haas and a collection of Gravelle’s emails, said that Gravelle falsely stated that “there is no question these books are not about Texas history.” The outlet attempted to dunk on the official by saying that a whopping one of the 23 actually was: “That description wasn’t accurate: one of the 23 titles on the list, for example, was ‘Remembering the Days of Sorrow,’ which features testimony from numerous Texan slaves,” it wrote.

The article’s crux — that Haas and conservatives wanted slavery books banned — rested on the statement that, “When asked if it was her intention that historical books about slavery be removed from sites, Haas demurred.”

But that statement was invented out of thin air. The author of the Texas Monthly article, Steven Monacelli, is a reported socialist who was fired from another Texas paper after making false accusations against conservatives. Haas recorded her interview with Haas and shared it with The Daily Wire, and the audio shows that he never asked her if she wanted to remove books about slavery — likely because it was obvious from the conversation that she did not. Haas’ entire point, after all, was that books like Ibram X. Kendi’s are not about slavery.

Monacelli had actually asked her: “Is it possible that the response to your raising these concerns could have unintended effects?” Haas said it was possible, and suggested that as a way to avoid the risk, if they removed a book like “Roots,” they should replace it with a book like one about Britt Johnson, a former Texas slave.

The journalist then asked if there were “books that were included on that list that you found to be good representations of the sorts of literature that [Texas Historical Commission] should carry.” Her number-one example was “Remembering the Days of Sorrow.” “That absolutely should be there,” Haas told Monacelli.

“Okay. Because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting the wrong impression regarding this list,” he replied. His article, however, did give his readers the wrong impression.

After Haas confronted Texas Monthly editor Dan Goodgame with the audio, the publication made numerous changes, including removing the sentence alleging that Haas refused to say if she wanted to ban slavery books. But the correction appended to the article concealed the actual changes, instead making it seem like a pedantic issue. The correction itself introduced an equally inflammatory charge against Haas that reinforced the article’s central false narrative. The correction itself, which remains at the bottom of the published piece and can be read in full below, states that “Haas emailed a list of books that she objected to.”

Correction, December 12, 2023: A prior version of this story reported Michelle Haas emailed a list of books that she objected to that were available for purchase at the Levi Jordan historical plantation to Texas Historical Commission Chairman John Nau III. She addressed the email to him and other commissioners, but did not include him as a direct recipient.”

Throughout the interview, as in her email to officials, Haas described how her list was simply a list of all books available for sale, and that she did not object to all of the books. “Here’s a complete list of the books that are for sale at these particular sites… here’s the list of everything that’s for sale, make of it. Use your judgment to decide if these titles are relevant to Texas history,” she told Monacelli.

In fact, Haas warned Texas Monthly in advance about getting that fact wrong. “It’s certainly not how certain professors want to portray me as someone who just doesn’t … want any bad stuff there. No, I do want bad stuff there,” she said.

Texas Monthly did not return a request for comment, and did not provide The Daily Wire with the public records underlying the story, which Monacelli initially concealed from Haas in their interview before alluding to a list he had received that he wasn’t sure how to interpret. He also said some books the Texas Historical Commission apparently removed were not on Haas’ list, which tended to back up the Commission’s assertion that the books were removed as part of a general inventory reduction. The Texas Historical Commission did not return a request for comment.

Texas Monthly’s article was picked up by other outlets who distorted it even further, leading to a firestorm of threats against Haas.


“Those books include: ‘Roots,’ by Alex Haley; ‘Invisible Man,’ by Ralph Ellison; ‘White Rage,’ by Carol Anderson; and ‘Stamped from the Beginning,’ by Ibram X. Kendi. See a pattern?” Daily Kos wrote. “It seems that ‘amateur historian’ and graphic designer Michelle Haas is the source of the movement to remove mentions of historical slavery at Texas’s historic sites,” it added — a non-sequitur since only one of those books, Roots, is about slavery, and none are about Texas slavery.

Falsehoods poured in from otherworldly places, with the Star Trek actor-turned-activist George Takei morphing it to the claim that books “written by slaves” were removed “after white woman complains.”

Books like Ibram Kendi’s are not written by slaves, and the audio showed that Haas explicitly advocated for adding a book about a slave, Britt Johnson, and for keeping one based on interviews with former slaves, “Remembering the Days of Sorrow.”

Texas State Historical Association

The smear on Haas appeared to be retribution from a larger battle between citizen historians dedicated to researching their state, and academics who are more likely to use history as a vehicle for contemporary leftist politics, and to jealously guard the domain.

The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), which has been in existence since 1897, is designed to be split between academic historians and laypeople. But in recent years, the board was packed with academics.

Its chief historian, Walter Buenger, used the group to promote racial conspiracy theories, claiming in 2021 that, “The Alamo became this symbol of what it meant to be white…. It is again tapping into a defense of white privilege.”

TSHA is a private group, but likely the most important history group in Texas, according to Haas.

“Since they need their articles peer reviewed and published, the academics need to control who the peers are doing the review. TSHA has the most important scholarly history journal in the state. They need it, but require full ideological capture and can’t tolerate differing points of view,” Haas told The Daily Wire.

A businessman, J.P. Bryan, stepped in as executive director to bail out the TSHA after declining membership, perhaps due to the fact that most Texas history buffs aren’t keen on constant denigration of Texas. “We are disenfranchising our non-academic members, who make up 90% of our membership, because they’re not properly represented on the board,” Bryan once said. But Nancy Baker Jones, the association president and an academic, appeared to want to use Bryan for his financial expertise, then cast him aside.

In March, TSHA attempted to install yet another academic, and became outraged when Bryan suggested that to comply with their bylaws, they should install a layman, the first black chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, instead. Professor Jeffrey Littlejohn, the co-chair of Sam Houston State University’s diversity committee, stood up and shouted his displeasure at the prospect of a black conservative history buff instead of a leftist academic, Haas wrote.

In May, Judge Kerry Neves blocked the academic packing, writing, “The Bylaws require that the membership of the Board of Directors be balanced substantially between academic and non-academic members. The present Board is not substantially balanced because the makeup is presently 12 academic members compared to 8 non-academic members.”

The two professors behind pushing the media smear of Haas were angry at her for her role in stopping the Texas-history coup by academics. On Facebook, a former junior college professor named Michael Phillips indicated that he and another academic historian, Ben Johnson, were behind the Texas Monthly article, and that, “People who think you can work with Haas and company regarding the TSHA are delusional.”

Phillips was the only academic quoted by Texas Monthly’s Monacelli, who last year wrote a lengthy article in Rolling Stone about how Phillips was let go by a junior college and was suing it alleging that it was in retaliation for pushing leftist politics. On Instagram, the socialist journalist labeled Phillips as “legendary.”

Steven Monacelli and Michael Phillips / Facebook

Though Haas spent a career in Texas book publishing, the outlet called her a mere “graphic designer,” implying that because she did not have a Ph.D. in history, she could not ascertain what books were related to a Texas plantation and what weren’t. That characterization was removed by Texas Monthly after she confronted the editor with the audio.

Haas said that degree-based attack was the modus operandi of leftist academics who chafed because she knew enough about history to offer critiques when they relied on their credentials to push biased information. For example, she said, when Johnson alleged that low voter turnout in 1918 was because of racist voter suppression, she reminded him that the Spanish flu “shut everything down a week before the primaries” that year. “If you’re such a professional, why do you omit that? And instead of answering, the answer is always: ‘Well, you’re just a white supremacist.’”

In August, the lawsuit was settled and Baker Jones, the association president, and another academic agreed to resign. The Texas Public Policy Foundation called the outcome “a win for history — and against wokeness.”

Since then, leftist academics have been in a tailspin at the idea of opposing views, Haas said. “The historians started resigning because they didn’t know what to do. For the past decades or so they’ve just appointed their grievance studies people to the committees and enveloped the whole organization,” she said.

Haas said that history is the domain of all Americans and that activist academics have squandered their credibility by subjugating facts to ideology. She said primary source documents have more to teach people about slavery than contemporary ideologues like Kendi do, saying “we have their words … that’s moving stuff.”

Her Texas History Trust has “digitized about 30,000 pages of primary source material so that the public, teachers and scholars can go direct to the source on their phone, for free.”

“I put a $25,000 research library in people’s pockets,” she said. “When I announced the digitization project, the activist historian crew objected. ‘You need an archivist with a Ph.D. to do that!’ No, I really don’t.”

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