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San Antonio Missions preserve Native American history in Texas’s first World Heritage Site March 10, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : Civil Rights travel, Historical preservation, Indigenous culture, San Antonio , add a comment

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Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett
for the Washington Post

Two weathered gravestones sit in a small, dusty rectangle in front of the grand Spanish church at the heart of the nation’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions. I’ve been to Mission San Jose many times — to attend the lively Mariachi Mass, to photograph its antique majesty, to reflect on the history of this place and its role in the settlement of the American Southwest. But this is the first time I’ve thought of it as a cemetery.

I’m seeing it through the eyes of two direct descendants of the missions’ original inhabitants, members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, whose ancestors inhabited this part of what is now Texas for thousands of years. Some 300 years ago, they helped to build these missions, and their descendants maintain a vital connection to them.

Last year the five missions, spread out over about 12 miles along the San Antonio River, received the coveted designation of World Heritage Site. Four of them are still active Catholic parishes, attended by some of the original Native American descendants; the fifth, Mission San Antonio de Valero, went on to become a military garrison — the legendary Alamo, now converted into a memorial to the battle fought there.

Ramón Vásquez, a straight-talking Texan with a dark ponytail, and the soft-spoken Jesús “Jesse” Reyes Jr., an anthropologist in a cowboy hat and bolo tie, are my guides today. Ramón, executive director of a nonprofit organization called the American Indians in Texas, has teamed up with Jesse to create Yanawana Mission Tours — named for the pre-Hispanic name for the San Antonio River — which offers an eye-opening perspective not just on the missions, but also on American history itself.

Read the rest of the story here

Selma marches, Bloody Sunday mark 50th anniversaries February 21, 2015

Posted by Tracy in : Civil Rights, Civil Rights travel , add a comment

Marchers walking in the rain in Montgomery during the Selma to Montgomery March (Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Marchers walking in the rain in Montgomery during the Selma to Montgomery March (Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History)


My latest for USA Today, and one I really enjoyed doing. The best part was interviewing two heroes of the Civil Rights movement – Vera Booker and Gwen Patton, who put their bodies on the line time after time. Sad that 50 years later, people are still having to fight for the same things. But it feels good to take a moment, anyway, to appreciate the progress that’s been made.

by Tracy L. Barnett, Special for USA TODAY

Vera Jenkins Booker was the night supervisor on duty at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma, Ala., the night Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by an Alabama state trooper who followed him into a restaurant and shot him at close range as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather. The date was Feb. 18, 1965, and as those who have seen the movie Selma already know, it was the first in a chain of events that would focus the eyes of the world on the brutality of racism. The 26-year-old Baptist deacon was among those marching in the tiny town of Marion in protest of the discriminatory voter registration practices of the day; he had tried unsuccessfully to register for four years, and the struggle eventually cost him his life.

“He was in so much pain, and when I pulled up the shirt, that was when I saw a piece of gut the size of a small grapefruit,” Booker recalls. She tended the wound as they waited for the doctor. “I said, ‘You gonna be all right,’ and he kinda calmed down.”

She cared for him throughout the week, and through two surgeries. “He told me he was home from the service, and he said to me, ‘I got a little girl, and I’m going to marry her mother.’ I said, ‘That’s the thing to do, marry that little girl.’ I was sure he was going to live.”

His death eight days later was the match that ignited an already smoldering civil rights movement, kindling Bloody Sunday, the Selma to Montgomery marches, a summer of nonstop protest around the country, and in August, the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Those marches are the focus of an ambitious series of anniversary events in Selma and Montgomery that have already begun. At their peak, on the March 7 anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Barack Obama is scheduled to make an appearance; other big names to help mark the event include Bernice King, who will be reading her father’s seminal “How long? Not long” speech from the statehouse steps on March 25 in Montgomery, at the same time and spot as her father did.

(more…)