Remembering T. R. Fehrenbach, Texas’ greatest historian

“Today I think many journalists are independent of their bosses and editors, but not of the newsroom. An independent person thinks for himself or herself, even if the world thinks differently.” — T. R. 

The world of Texas journalism today mourns the loss of a great historian and journalist. A native of San Benito, T. R. Fehrenbach, who died Sunday at the age of 88, is probably best remembered for his magnum opus, the 1968 “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.” But he also left a memorable mark on Texas journalism through his weekly column for the San Antonio Express-News, which he wrote until August of this year.

Fehrenbach often began his columns with an epigraph, and so we have done here with a sagacious warning from his final column. At a time when the journalism industry is undergoing rapid changes in its funding and delivery models, Fehrenbach wisely captured the uncertain nature of the journalist in a transforming landscape. Fehrenbach realized that without the complete freedom of the journalist from the shackles of groupthink, American journalism as we know it risks irreparable harm. 

It’s a particularly relevant message not just to those considering a career in journalism, but also to anyone who values the importance of being an independent thinker. It’s also a lesson that could only have come from a person with a solid understanding of the mistakes of the past. 

In his final column, Fehrenbach asked, “Where have all the Great Journalists gone?” Similarly, one might ask, “Where have all the Great Historians gone?” 

We’re not sure, but we know that Fehrenbach can count himself among both groups.