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Joe The Slave who Became an Alamo Legend

Joe: The Slave who Became an Alamo Legend
by Ron J. Jackson, Jr. and Lee Spencer White

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015
352 pp. $ 29.95 cloth

Reviewed by
Komi Begedou

The story of Joe in Joe: The Slave Who Became an Alamo Legend is an excellent overview of the Alamo story. His eyewitness account of the battle has shaped the historical record, but his narrative also intersects with broader themes such as the quest for freedom, the value of loyalty, and the importance of family.  Authors Ron Jackson and Lee Spencer White have written a valuable contribution to the library concerning the history of the Texas Republic.

   The book is split into two sections—March 5, 1836 (the day before the battle) and March 6, 1836—the day of the siege.  There are twenty-six chapters and each is headed with an epigraph. Jackson and White spent more than a decade meticulously researching Joe’s life. Although Joe witnessed one of the most important events in Texas history, his life has more or less been a mystery to scholars. Joe was born into slavery on a farm in Kentucky between 1813 and 1815.  He was moved to a plantation in Missouri at a young age and later to Texas where he would be acquired by William B. Travis.

   Though the authors used letters, journals, diaries, court papers, plantation ledgers, and newspapers, Joe reads more like a novel than a text book. This book captures the hardships and uncertainties that defined the lives of slaves during this era. The foreword by Phil Collins (yes, the singer of Genesis), who also happens to be a noted collector of artifacts and documents related to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, establishes the importance of telling Joe’s story.  By switching the focus from the traditional lens of Davy Crockett to a slave , Jackson and White acknowledge the importance of African Americans to the founding of the Lone Star State. The authors also uncovered the relationship between Joe and his older brother, William Wells Brown, a well-known abolitionist and author of the novel, Clotel or the President’s Daughter. Students of African American literature and cultural studies will be intrigued by this newly discovered familial link between these two outstanding African Americans.

   Jackson and White’s Joe: The Slave Who Became an Alamo Legend expands our understanding of a key player in the history of the Battle of the Alamo. It is an important addition to Texas history, African American history, and U.S. history. Readers owe Ron Jackson, Jr. and Lee Spencer White an enormous debt of gratitude for eleven years of research that humanizes Joe, documenting his life before and after the Battle of the Alamo. Thanks to Jackson and White, Joe is no longer a mere footnote in the history of the Alamo.O


Komi Begedou is an assistant professor of American Literature and Culture in the Department of English at the Université de Lomé, Togo. He was hosted by Texas State University from August 2014 to May 2015 as a Fulbright Research Scholar.