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UT professor’s ‘genius’ grant will help her research Texas’ history of racial violence

Monica Muñoz Martinez is a public historian who challenges what Texans know about the state’s history through her work.

A new MacArthur “genius” wants to teach a more accurate history of Texas that reflects the sometimes violent experiences inflicted on people of color because of racism.

Monica Muñoz Martinez, whose research includes histories of racial violence, policing on the US-Mexico border and Latinx history in the state, will receive a $625,000 “genius grant” to drive her future endeavors. She is a public historian and an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We are asking people to unlearn so much of what they have been presented with in public school textbooks, in popular culture,” Martinez said in a video by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announcing her fellowship on Tuesday.

Currently, Martinez is focusing on Mapping Violence, a digital archive that seeks to recover lost and obscured cases of racial violence in Texas from 1900 to 1930.

Notably, her award comes after months of heated culture war in the state over how to address race and racism in schools, what kind of history should be taught and how educators should approach current events.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick even blocked a book reading in Austin because it challenges the longstanding narrative of Alamo history.

In this March 6, 2013, file photo, John Potter, a member of the San Antonio Living History Association, patrols the Alamo in San Antonio, during a pre-dawn memorial ceremony to remember the 1836 Battle of the Alamo and those who fell on both sides.
Politics

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Bullock Museum nix event for book that challenges Alamo history

About 4 p.m. Thursday, the museum’s board of directors contacted the authors to inform them that the museum-sponsored promotional event for their book had been canceled; they were scheduled to speak later that evening. The move is viewed by many as a politicized effort against the book’s authors, who attempt to retell the story of the Alamo with a critical lens on the heroism of its defenders.
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Martinez’ past projects include an award-winning book, a public history nonprofit, and a digital humanities initiative.

Her book, “The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas,” covers a brutal period of anti-Mexican violence in the early 20th century — most notably from Texas Rangers.

“This was a period of state-sanctioned racial terror that included acts of lynchings, massacres, racially motivated homicides and police violence and police murder,” she said in the video. “In some cases, these histories have been hidden, but at worst, these histories have been celebrated.”

Martinez spoke with “residents of Texas who preserved their own family records and were committed to making sure that their loved ones were never forgotten.”

Along with a team of historians, she co-founded the nonprofit organization Refusing to Forget to push for more social awareness on the period of violence through museum and online exhibits, lectures and curricular materials for public school teachers. They have also erected historical markers on sites where killings took place.

Throughout her work, she combines traditional archival research methods with a practice that Martinez refers to as vernacular history-making, by which the oral histories and memorabilia of victims’ descendants are presented to the public to challenge their knowledge of the state’s and country’s history, according to the MacArthur foundation’s website.

Conservative leaders have pushed back against such efforts to frame history in a more inclusive and accurate depiction. They wanted to strengthen civics education by ensuring that “controversial” topics stay out of the classroom to prevent further divisiveness, they said.

This summer, lawmakers passed yet another so-called “anti-critical race theory” law aimed at limiting what could be taught in Texas classrooms about racism, slavery and current events. They also approved the 1836 civics education bill, which seeks to create a committee “to promote patriotic education and increase awareness of the Texas values that continue to stimulate boundless prosperity across this state.”

Martinez’ grant exceeds the $467,000 fiscal note on the 1836 Project, which will provide funds for the Texas Education Agency to support the committee that would put related materials in driver license offices.

Educators and civics groups have repeatedly insisted that critical race theory is not part of the state’s K-12 public school curriculum and that the new laws only make it harder for teachers to talk about America’s true past and present in class.

In order to be selected for the coveted MacArthur fellowship, recipients must show exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments and potential for subsequent creative work. Since 1981, 1061 people have been named MacArthur Fellows.

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible. They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries,” said Cecilia Conrad, the MacArthur Fellows managing director, in a statement.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Valeria Olivares, Education Lab Reporting Fellow. Valeria is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News Education Lab focusing on higher education. She was born in El Paso, but was raised across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She has previously interned at The San Antonio Express-News and The Texas Tribune. She loves internet culture and green tea-flavored sweets.

valeria.olivares@dallasnews.com ValeriaOliEsc LinkedIn Iconvaleriaoliesc
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