Texas Historical Commission removes dozens of books on slavery from plantation gift shops

At least 25 books are no longer for sale at gift shops at sites overseen by the Texas Historical Commission. 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?

According to Texas Monthly, a spokesperson for the commission claims the books were culled as the agency transitions to a new “point-of-sale software system,” but internal emails from board member David Gravelle tell a different story. 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.

Haas began her crusade in 2022, after a visit to the Varner-Hogg plantation just outside of  Houston triggered her. She watched an informational video that she felt spent too much time talking about slavery on the plantation and not enough time on the slaveholders. She then started a nonprofit culture war organization, the Texas History Trust.

She subsequently began emailing commissioner Gravelle, being ornery about the video and offering up a list of books that she thought shouldn’t be available at historic Texas sites. Unsurprisingly, the books are mostly by Black authors and/or about slavery, systemic racism, and Black American culture.

Texas Monthly reports that Haas’ email campaign worked, as Gravelle sent out his own emails to other commissioners on the board, as well as people ranked above them:

Gravelle made clear in emails that he feared reprisal from the Legislature based on which books were for sale. “I believe we need to take immediate steps to learn the extent of this problem and articulate a remedy, including the source of how this material was approved,” Gravelle wrote in the February email. “There is a good chance it will end up in the open forum of the Lege,” he wrote, adding that he was concerned about “the inevitable press that would be generated due [to] the emotional nature of this national argument if we do not address it quickly. And I mean quickly.”

Haas followed this up by sending another round of emails to Gravelle a couple of months later, along with a list of books she wasn’t a fan of. To put Haas’s ideas about history into perspective, one of the things she objected to was the Varner-Hogg museum not blaming the victims of slavery more, writing, “Several of the static exhibits at Varner detail the torture inflicted upon the enslaved people who labored there but omit the fact that the chief torturer was one of the slaves.”

To put this into further perspective, the Dallas Observer points out that one of the books Haas and her group complained about is an Afro-vegan cookbook. But she didn’t seem to have any issue with “a guide to birds in the state, a book of wildlife photo portraits, and a southern cookbook” being sold on the premises of former slave plantations.

As historian Michael Phillips told Texas Monthly, “We have an appalling situation. The idea that these books are irrelevant somehow is really striking.” He said that “to eliminate books about racism at slave plantation sites is like doing an Auschwitz tour and never mentioning antisemitism.”

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