The truth about Colorado and America’s racial history is out there, especially in three recent well-researched books by talented authors. Recommended for your summer reading is “Grant,” “Forget the Alamo,” and “The Holly.”
Two hundred years ago, the border between Mexico and the United States traversed Colorado and extended to parts of Kansas, Wyoming and Oregon. Mexico’s hard-fought 1821 war of independence from Spain gave it control of the wild West, including Texas and Colorado, if you forget Native Americans.
Remember the Alamo? Mexico, led by Santa Anna, won that battle on March 6, 1836, but would eventually lose to Texans who formed the Republic of Texas (1836-1846), which included some of Colorado.
America’s 1846 annexation of Texas started the Mexican-American War and provided the South another slave state. The U.S. Army won the Mexican-American War by 1848. It was 1850 when America compensated Texas for its Colorado land claims, and put Colorado fully into territorial America.
Among the military officers winning that Mexican-American War was young Ulysses S. Grant, a West Point graduate from humble Ohio origins. Most Americans only know Grant for Civil War heroism, booze and the $50 bill.
But there’s so much more to this brilliant and courageous family man. Renowned biographer Ron Chernow’s 2018 book, “Grant,” astounds with revelations about America’s 18th president. As he was dying, Grant provided historians excellent research material by writing his own extraordinary memoirs. History builds on history. There is nothing like a primary source.
During last summer’s civil unrest, San Francisco’s statue of Grant was imprudently destroyed. President Grant was a civil rights stalwart. Frederick Douglass eulogized Grant as “a man too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point. In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior.”
Grant disdained slavery and came to regret the Mexican-American War that he had fought valiantly. Grant considered that war an imperialist Texas land grab begun by Tennessee slave-owner and expansionist-minded President James Polk. Grant called it “the most unjust (war) ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation.” Grant grasped the slavery implications.
Thirty years after Texas achieved statehood, it was President Grant who controversially signed Colorado into statehood on Aug. 1, 1876, only after being assured Colorado would allow Black people to vote. Colorado’s prior opposition to Black suffrage scuttled its 1867 statehood bid.
President Grant visited Colorado before and after his time in the White House. Grant’s first Vice President was Schuyler Colfax, a frequent Denver visitor. Reading “Grant” would be an excellent way to celebrate Colorado’s 145th birthday.
But please remember the Alamo. In “Forget the Alamo, the Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” three Anglo historians with deep Texas ties expose inconvenient Texas truths surrounding that Mexican-American conflict. False narratives were fed to American baby boomers in Disney’s Davy Crockett and misinformation movies like John Wayne’s “The Alamo.”
We were all led to believe Davy and pals were fighting for freedom. John Wayne’s movie features a misleading prologue announcing Generalissimo Santa Anna was “crushing all who opposed his tyrannical rule,” and that the brave Alamo defenders chose to fight to the death rather than submit.
But what was the fighting really about? No one taught me in school that Bowie, Crockett, Travis and their fellow transplanted Southerners were primarily fighting for slavery. “Forget the Alamo” is persuasive on this key point.
Mexico had successfully revolted against racist Spain, which punished Mexican people based on skin color. Mexico then abolished slavery. The Texas Revolt was mounted by transplanted American Southerners who grew cotton in Texas with slave labor. In fact. Juneteenth — now a federal holiday — marks the day in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the state’s residents that slavery had been abolished.
Education on slavery’s role in the Texas Revolt is taboo in Texas, where the myth of the “heroic Anglo” is perpetuated by right-wing politicians and statutes. “Forget the Alamo” is a fascinating, well-researched book that is penetrating public consciousness much to the consternation of Texas Republicans.
Denver’s racial history is explored superbly in Julian Rubinstein’s compelling new book, The Holly – Five Bullets, One Gun, and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood.”
Northeast Denver is the primary setting of this page-turner, which explains why Blacks populated Five Points and Park Hill. Rubinstein addresses Black flight from America’s South, Colorado’s Klan past, redlining and court-ordered school desegregation.
To write “The Holly,” Rubinstein deeply embedded himself in Denver’s ongoing gang war. Rubinstein recounts events from the perspective of former gang member Terrance Roberts.
“The Holly” is suspenseful, so no spoilers here. Prepare for fresh information and finger-pointing at many well-known people in Colorado. The repercussions of the book’s accusations are still reverberating in what Rubinstein calls “invisible Denver.”
Decide whether systemic racism has fueled Denver gangs after listening to the audiobook version of “The Holly.” Rubinstein narrates expertly with interesting intermixing of Denver recordings, voice actors and Terrance Roberts.
America and Colorado can handle the truths contained in these three books. Racism brings out the worst of some people and the best in others. We should not hide from history. Let’s educate ourselves and learn the right lessons.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA who also has worked in the media for decades. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun. He practices law at the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, P.C. and is host of The Craig Silverman Show podcast.