Denise McVea's Speech International Woman's Day March Plaza del Zacate, San Antonio, Texas March 5, 2011

___________________________________ Greetings, Brothers and Sisters, And congratulations on your continued commitment to human rights, and women's rights in particular. My name is Denise McVea. I am the director of the Auris Project and author of MAKING MYTH OF EMILY, a history book that explores the life of the woman who inspired the Yellow Rose of Texas legend, Emily West de Zavala. As you know, this year marks the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution. On this date in 1836, Texas belonged to Mexico, but the Texans were rebelling. They sought independence from Mexico for three primary reasons: 1. Santa Anna, Mexican president and general and notorious mujeriego, had just named himself emperor; 2. The Texans were unhappy with high tariffs, 3. And -although you will rarely see this in history books- Mexico had abolished slavery, and the Texans

wanted to keep their slaves. During the height of the Revolution, the framers of the Texas Constitution drafted this provision:

"No free person of African descent shall be permitted to emigrate and reside in the republic, unless by special act of Congress, which must specify the person by name. This article shall not be construed to prohibit emigrants from bringing their slaves into the country...and no free people of color shall ever be admitted to reside in this republic after the ratification of this constitution." On April 21, 1836 the Texan rebels massacred a Mexican Army that outnumbered them by the thousands. The Battle at San Jacinto lasted less than 20 minutes and is considered one of the most decisive battles in the history of the world. Texas had won its independence from Mexico. Historians have marveled at the Texans' unlikely victory in 1836. How did this ragtag militia of poorly trained rebels overcome a massive invading army?

According to the Yellow Rose of Texas legend, a beautiful yellowskinned black American slave/servant/prostitute/spy named Emily West seduced and distracted Santa Anna in his battlefield tent. Esa mulata kept him so occupied with her sensual wiles that he forgot he was fighting a war. That is the gist of one of the most enduring historical myths in the United States. But is it true? I spent more than 10 years researching that question, and eventually I found the answer: no, the legend is not true. But, I DID find the Emily West they talk about and she WAS black. BUT she was not a slave, or a servant, or a prostitute or a spy. She was the wife of the interim vice president of Texas, Lorenzo de Zavala. Yes that's right: the second lady of Revolutionary Texas was a black woman. She followed her husband to Texas in 1835. Partly because she arrived in the company of her husband's business partner, James Morgan, and because she was black, historians thought she must have belonged to Morgan. She did not. Still, for more than a century she was called Emily Morgan.

According to the historical record, Emily was unwelcome here in Texas. She and her husband never intended to stay here. But he died in his home at Buffalo Bayou just a few months after the Battle of San Jacinto. Emily, bless her heart, died in Houston at the reported age of 70. Lorenzo and Emily's granddaughter, Adina de Zavala, became well known in 1908 as the "Savior of the Alamo" when she barricaded herself inside to prevent developers from razing it. But her experiences are telling, too: Alamo custodians insisted that a plaque in her honor be placed off Alamo grounds. As my research progressed, I found in the original records what were clear signs of a family responding to great official repression, despite their high station in life. And I found something else: a contemporary historical community in Texas that twisted itself into knots to avoid the obvious: that one of Texas' most prominent female pioneers was black. In Texas, I learned, there are two historical records. 1. There is the historical record that is carefully preserved by thoughtful custodians in archives across the state. And

2. There is what I call the "incoherent patchwork" historical record. This is the record certain prominent white male historians construct to preserve a world view that is acceptable to them. (Now, not all white men, given the authority to falsify historical accounts, would do so. ) I am saying that the ones that I encountered here in Texas did, and they did so in the most arrogant and superior fashion.) My experiences with top historians in Texas during this project can only be described as harrowing. These historians frequently scheduled panels about Emily at every opportunity to tell their side of the story, the story that insisted that Emily was a

historical record itself. If it happened to reveal something that contradicted the sexy legend, then it was routinely ignored, misrepresented, or unconvincingly explained away. I saw the routine dismissal of authentic, original documents. And I saw numerous documents that were created and inserted into Texas archives by people who had no connection to the actual event. I saw a Texas university pay $25,000 for a fraudulent document that clearly had no provenance, then present it to the public as authentic, original text. But most disturbing: I saw how passively and unquestioningly we the general public consumed the incoherent patchwork record. I saw how little honesty we required from the people who tell us about ourselves. I still get embarrassed when I think of how often I told the sexualized and false account of Emily's story. Take Arizona, for instance. The incoherent patchwork record says that immigrants are the cause of economic problems in Arizona, therefore harsh discriminatory antiimmigration laws are needed. But the actual, valid record reveals that those laws were hatched in a motel meeting room in 2009 as a way to create new revenue

whore, but were careful not to
inform or invite me. As an investigative journalist, I expected to find some disagreement and skepticism regarding the premise of my book, and even some hostility towards me. What I did not expect to find was the hostility towards the actual

streams for Exxon, Big Tobacco, and members the NRA. Jails for women and their children. Our history is richer, more nuanced, and more varied than we have been allowed to see. We as a people are more connected, more related, more powerful than we fully understand. If Emily's story taught me anything, it is that our history is more than just battlefields, and forts and dying. And women's part in it was more than just knitting, and milking and birthing. We as women, and as people who love women, have to do a better job of tending to the historical record. We must be vigilant in determining what is true about us and our past and what is false. We have to pay attention. We have to ask questions. We have to follow up. We have to stay awake. If you'd like to learn more about Emily, please visit us at the Auris Project table. Thank you!

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