Over ninety years ago, a border native and the only Mexican American serving in the state legislature, José Tomas ‘JT’ Canales called for an investigation into state-sanctioned violence unleashed on the predominantly Mexican-origin community in the state’s southern border with Tamaulipas and Nuevo León. The 1919 Canales Investigation into Texas Ranger Violence and its civil rights legacy finally was publicly recognized in the Spring of 2019. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) believed in the importance of this event as a significant turning point in the history of Civil Rights in modern American history and sponsored the two-day conference.
The call for an investigation by the Brownsville attorney and member of the Tejano elite was prompted by the widespread killing (lynching, shooting in the back) of Mexican Americans and Mexican nationals working and residing in south Texas during the 1910-1920 period. Harper’s Weekly reported that the killing of these ethnic Mexicans made it seem “as if it were open-gun season on Mexicans.”
The conference, “Reverberations of Memory, Violence, and History: The Centennial of the 1919 Canales Investigation” placed this traumatic event in our nation’s history at the center of a public conversation. This conference grew out of the larger efforts of the Refusing to Forget (RTF) team. As with other RTF projects, the scholars involved in this endeavor sought to show that violence not only exemplified deep socio-economic transformations at a particular historical moment but underscores community responses to such violence and traces its long-lasting legacy. We are happy to report that the University of Texas at Austin Press is publishing a scholarly anthology featuring scholarship presented and discussed at this historic conference.
Together, the public conference and the forthcoming anthology, Reverberations of Racial Violence will help us reflect upon this particular past, and help us shift the public conversation about the way in which we study violence and civil rights, about community resilience, and about the state’s role in encouraging violence.
We hope to place at the forefront a border community often left (historiographically, methodologically, and in national conversations) on the margins of national history.
The conference took place at the Bob Bullock Museum, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2019
“Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this forthcoming conference and subsequent edited volume, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”