The Alamo needs a makeover; on that, at least, everyone agrees. Plaster is flaking off the walls of the nearly 300-year-old former Spanish mission, the most revered battle site in Texas history. Its one-room exhibit space can hold only a fraction of key artifacts. And the surrounding plaza is a tourist circus, packed with novelty shops and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.
But Texans are deeply divided over how, exactly, to remember the Alamo. A $450 million plan to renovate the site has devolved into a five-year brawl over whether to focus narrowly on the 1836 battle or present a fuller view that delves into the site’s Indigenous history and the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution.
Generations of Texas schoolchildren have been taught to admire the Alamo defenders as revolutionaries slaughtered by the Mexican army in the fight for Texas independence. But several were enslavers, including William B. Travis and Davy Crockett — an inconvenient fact in a state where textbooks have only acknowledged since 2018 that slavery was at issue in the Civil War.
Indeed, an enslaved man named Joe, who was owned by Travis, survived the battle of the Alamo and became one of the primary sources of information about the 13-day siege, inspiring dozens of books and movies, including the John Wayne classic.
Key members of the state’s GOP leadership and some conservative groups are insisting that the renovation stay focused on the battle. A bill introduced by 10 Republican state lawmakers would bar the overhaul from citing any reasons for the Texas Revolution beyond those mentioned in the Texas Declaration of Independence — which does not include slavery.
“If they want to bring up that it was about slavery, or say that the Alamo defenders were racist, or anything like that, they need to take their rear ends over the state border and get the hell out of Texas,” said Brandon Burkhart, president of the This is Freedom Texas Force, a conservative group that held an armed protest last year in Alamo Plaza.
Democratic elected officials in San Antonio want the Alamo story to be told from other perspectives. Indigenous leaders, for example, want the site to show respect for its ancient role as a burial ground. Meanwhile, historians argue that support for slavery was indeed a motivating factor for the Texas Revolution, a fact that should be acknowledged at the site, even if it tarnishes some giants of Texas history.
“Sometimes we try so hard to create perfect heroes, and in trying so hard to create perfection, we force ourselves into a corner where it’s difficult to accept the reality that people are not perfect,” said Carey Latimore, a history professor at Trinity University.
“As we become more diverse as a nation and a people, we’ve got to learn how to talk about these difficult conversations, but we’ve got to talk about it with nuance. And that’s what’s missing right now in our society, is the nuance.”
Elected leaders have talked for decades about redeveloping the Alamo complex, which lies in the heart of San Antonio, not far from the famous River Walk. But those plans have always presented logistical challenges — the Alamo is owned by the state, while the adjoining plaza is owned by the city — as well as ideological ones.
The original plan, announced in 2017, called for repairing the Alamo, fixing up the plaza and building a world-class museum for artifacts, including a collection donated by rock musician Phil Collins, an Alamo enthusiast. It represented a rare alliance between the state’s Republican leadership and one of its more liberal cities, with San Antonio committing $38 million to the budget and the state of Texas pitching in $106 million. That left at least $200 million to be raised through donations.