The 1836 Project: A look into the controversial Texas history project

State lawmakers in 2021 created a special committee called the 1836 Project. The name is essentially a backhanded compliment to the controversial 1619 Project published by The New York Times.

This Texas History project was created to develop a new way to promote Texas history, and doing that is the job of a special advisory committee. The members spent last year writing a history pamphlet that is going to be distributed to new drivers all across the state of Texas. 

Some critics claim it's an attempt to sanitize and whitewash the past. Committee members consider that to be a false assessment of their work. 

Tuesday, the 1836 Project Advisory Committee met to take a look at their pamphlet and to consider their future plans. FOX 7 Austin's Rudy Koski spoke with Chairman Don Frazier about this first attempt at promoting a big and complicated past.


DON FRAZIER: This was supposed to hit the high points of the Texas story and reestablish that sort of common language, you know, the common telling of the Texas experience. Did we get every different group in Texas in that pamphlet? There's no way: Texas is huge territory. 254 counties is a lot, and 31 million people. How do you tell all their stories in 13 pages? You know, I mean, I'm not really sure how anybody could do that. You can't even do a textbook that would tell all the Texas story. So I'm happy that it's the beginning of conversations all over this state. We don't expect it to be the last word, but we're pleased that it's the first word. 

RUDY KOSKI: Some critics want it more about slavery, more about the atrocities. But this is a pamphlet, right?

DON FRAZIER: Well, I think that we handled all that as best we could in the space allowed. You know, the history of Texas is not perfect. You know, we are all composed of human beings with all of our flaws. And we wanted to make allowances for that. But it's also not all bad news. 

RUDY KOSKI: The next step, apparently, is going to be some type of rolling display to go across Texas. But, of course, critics are going to say that's nothing more than rolling propaganda.

DON FRAZIER: Sure. We're going to constantly get criticized for writing the story of Texas from a particular perspective. And that comes with healthy debate. I mean, the great thing about Texas is we have a lot of opinions in this state. Again, you know, it's the beginning of the conversation. So let's say we have an exhibit somewhere in the state of Texas that people don't agree with. Great. Tell us your perspective. You know, if we can get both sides of any story, that's where understanding and that's where this sense of connectiveness to our Texas identity will come from.

RUDY KOSKI: You said during the hearing that Texas has a million stories. By telling those stories, is this how this committee stays relevant and continues?

DON FRAZIER: We will never reach the end of Texas history, I assure you. And every county's got its own story. Every community has its own story. Every person has their own story. We're going to be at this for a long, long time. 

RUDY KOSKI: Is this really just push-back against so-called liberal education? 

DON FRAZIER: You know, some people say, well, this is just a reaction to one or the other, you know, pick-a-year projects that we've seen across the country. I think that, in fact, this is more about telling a common story. This is just getting people reconnected. We don't want to be ahistorical. Now, we also don't want to be the people that tell you what your history is. We can't do that. You know what your history is, but it needs to be an informed understanding of your history.


RUDY KOSKI: There are so many different people in Texas: Anglos, Mexicans, Vietnamese and many other cultures that have made Texas home. Will you pledge to tell all of their stories? 

DON FRAZIER: Absolutely. We'll pledge to them because we're going to go back to: what is the thing that ties us all together? You think about it, the Alamo. There's a lot of people in the state of Texas that come from backgrounds that were neither inside the Alamo nor trying to get inside the Alamo. So how do you make the Alamo story relevant to, say, someone whose grandparents may have fled Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War? It's pretty simple. There's principles. There are foundational ideas of why we do what we do, what keeps us going every day. These sort of big picture ideas that speak to the universality of the human spirit. And look, if you can find your identity in that, then you're going to find this great. This is part of your story.