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Conservative activists pressure for book bans in Texas plantations

Books on slavery have been disappearing off shelves with Texas’s plantation gift shops. While the Texas Historical Commission claims the move was to “reduce inventory” in transition to “a new point-of-sale software system”, its internal emails say otherwise.

According to the Dallas Observer, certain books sold at Brazoria County historic plantations were successfully pressured off the shelves due to their content having little to do with Texas history.

At the head of this push, is the board chairman of Texas History Trust and graphic designer Michelle Haas. Emails between Haas and Texas Historical Commission board member David Gravelle obtained by Texas Monthly revealed an “eight-month” period of Haas advocating for the removal of 23 books including White Rage and Stamped From the Beginning which detailed the difficult history of slavery and race relations within Texas.

Haas’s displeasure with these books can be understood by her lengthy history of critiquing historical accounts of slavery, maintaining that the current narrative was “overly harsh” in her book 200 Years a Fraud, an annotation of the highly acclaimed memoir turned movie Twelve Years a Slave.

Eventually, Gavelle conceded to her requests and called for a removal policy of the books Haas had requested, deeming them “non-historical” in one email to the commission’s committee chair.

 “…Create a policy which focuses on the only books/gifts subjects that can be placed in a site should be about Texas history. Put the non-historical books in a box and remove them. Waiting on the bureaucracy to move isn’t good enough. The visitor who visits a gift store today will get an impression from the books. Is it the one we want them to have?” wrote Gravelle. “As Committee Chair, maybe you can help.”

Texas Monthly has noted that out of the 87 titles initially available for sale in June at the two Brazoria County plantation sites, only 39 remain. Haas celebrated her successful campaign in an email to her supporters.

These latest bans set a scary precedent for historical sites within the southern US. More cases like this could find their way across the entire country if nothing is done.

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