Texas Creates ‘1836 Project’ to Promote ‘Patriotic Education’ and ‘Christian Heritage’

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Image from portrait on Texas state website)

In the latest move in a wave of right-wing reaction against teaching about racism in American history, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation Monday establishing the “1836 Project,” an advisory committee that he said will promote “patriotic education” and ensure that future generations understand Texas values. The legislation requires the project to promote the state’s “Christian heritage.”

In May, New York Times correspondent Simon Romero noted a “flurry” of proposed measures in Texas that would amount to “some of the most aggressive efforts to control the teaching of American history” as “nearly a dozen other Republican-led states seek to ban or limit how the role of slavery and pervasive effects of racism can be taught.” The “1836 Project” is an apparent response to The New York Times’ longform journalism project, “The 1619 Project,” which examines U.S. history from 1619, the date of the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in colonial Virginia, and explores how the system of slavery shaped the nation’s history.

According to a report by Austin’s KAMR and KCIT, the 1836 Project will initially focus on parks, museums, and landmarks, but some teachers are concerned about the impact it will eventually have on curriculum and classroom teaching.

“To keep Texas the best state in the United States of America, we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place,” Abbott said during the signing ceremony. Under the law, every newcomer to Texas who applies for a driver’s license will get an official pamphlet that “outlines Texas’s rich history as well as the principles that make Texas, Texas.” It also establishes an award that will recognize students’ knowledge of the “founding documents” of Texas history.

Historian Seth Cotlar was among those who responded to Abbott’s signing statement with posts about the state’s history of encouraging settlement by slave owners and its decision to secede from the Union in response to northern states’ hostility to the “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery.”

Given the long history of organized efforts to imbue Texas textbooks with right-wing political ideology and the current right-wing propaganda campaign against “critical race theory,” it seems likely that this committee will be a vehicle to advance those ideas, though the legislation creating the project does give a nod to a broader perspective. It calls for the project to “promote awareness among residents of this state of the following as they relate to the history of prosperity and democratic freedom in this state”:

(A) Texas history, including the indigenous peoples of this state, the Spanish and Mexican heritage of this state, Tejanos, the African-American heritage of this state, the Texas War for Independence, Juneteenth, annexation of Texas by the United States, the Christian heritage of this state, and this state’s heritage of keeping and bearing firearms in defense of life and liberty and for use in hunting;

(B)  the founding documents of this state;

(C)  the founders of this state;

(D)  state civics; and

(E)  the role of this state in passing and reauthorizing the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (52 U.S.C. Section 10101 et seq.), highlighting:

(i)  President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the act;

(ii)  President George W. Bush’s 25-year extension of the act; and

(iii)  Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s successful efforts to             broaden the act to include Spanish-speaking communities;

The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the state House of Representatives are each empowered to appoint three members for two-year terms to the project’s advisory board, which the legislation says will be “reflective of the diversity of the state.” Right Wing Watch will report the 1836 Project’s initial advisory committee members when they are named.