10 Texas stories you don’t want to miss as we say goodbye to 2021

A view of the south entrance of the Capitol from the Capitol Dome in Austin, Aug. 12. (Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune, Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune)

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The news never seemed to stop in 2021: pandemic, a catastrophic winter storm, four legislative sessions, court fights over abortion rights and much more. But we at The Texas Tribune are proud that our journalists found the time to dig up stories that stood out from the news cycles — stories that held the powerful accountable and shed light on the experiences of everyday Texans or taught us more about our neighbors.

Here’s a list of 10 of our favorite, must-read stories that we hope you'll read as the year comes to an end:

After 91 years, coronavirus brings a Texas rancher’s last sunset,” by Emma Platoff

More than 74,000 Texans have died after testing positive for COVID-19 since March 2020. This is the story of one of them: Raymond Reeves, a rancher in Donley County.

“That day in November, after Reeves died, there was no tearing of wrapping paper or laughter of children. It was quiet when the children arrived back at the ranch. It felt heavy to enter the home; the sprawling property was ‘just so him,’ David said. They were confronted with his absence; his things scattered on the table, his brown Schnauzer, Reggie, sniffing around, wondering where he’d gone.”

The Karankawa were said to be extinct. Now they’re reviving their culture — and fighting to protect their ancestors’ land,” by Erin Douglas

Historians long thought the Karankawa people had disappeared. But now a group of descendants is fighting to protect a coastal area — where thousands of Karankawa artifacts were found — from an encroaching oil export facility.

“They are surrounded by the dominant narrative that they don’t exist, a fog so thick and so potent that until relatively recently, some of them believed that they and their immediate family were the last Karankawa descendants.”

Texas’ oldest Black university was built on a former plantation. Its students still fight a legacy of voter suppression,” by Alexa Ura

Prairie View A&M University graduate Jayla Allen, 22, represents the third generation in her family fighting for voting rights at the historically black university in a conservative rural county.

“The barriers students faced evolved over the years, but a pattern emerged. As one hurdle was removed — sometimes after federal courts stepped in — another followed, a new link devised to lengthen the chain of disenfranchisement. The county over time employed the full range of tools in the voter suppression lineup, excluding, intimidating and marginalizing the students of Prairie View A&M.”

Jordan’s story: Isolated, anxious and failing online classes, an 11-year-old Texas boy considered suicide,” by Aliyya Swaby

For one Frisco student, the isolation of at-home school contributed to a mental health crisis. But sending him back to school had its perils, too.

“Candice tried to find other options to leaving Jordan home alone. She asked her cousin to keep him alongside her kids for the day, and thought about asking her mom to fly in from California. But both ideas fell through. She heard from another mother who offered to keep Jordan with her own child during the day. But the offer came with so many stipulations, including that Jordan sit perfectly still, without getting distracted, for hours at a time, that Candice eventually dismissed it.”

Internet is ‘not a privilege; it’s a right’: Rural Texas students struggle without broadband access,” by Todd Wiseman, Alana Rocha, Justin Dehn, Verónica G. Cárdenas and Eric Vasquez

With the Legislature considering a measure to expand broadband in the state’s rural areas, our video team traveled to Hidalgo County to tell the story of students who were struggling through remote learning without stable internet.

“‘The first two weeks of school my son didn’t attend because I hadn’t found a solution,’ said Irma Cruz, a Hidalgo County resident. ‘And I spoke to several companies, and they said there wasn’t antenna or cabling. That if I wanted one special for me, I’d have to pay more than $3,000.’”

How a Black high school principal was swept into a ‘critical race theory’ maelstrom in a mostly white Texas suburb,” by Brian Lopez

More than a year after James Whitfield wrote a letter to his campus community decrying systemic racism, his words were resurfaced by parents alarmed by the idea of critical race theory. Soon, Whitfield’s job in the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District was at risk.

“‘I am the first African American to assume the role of Principal at my current school in its 25-year history, and I am keenly aware of how much fear this strikes in the hearts of a small minority who would much rather things go back to the way they used to be,’ Whitfield wrote in a Facebook post days after the accusations.”

A false date rape drugging accusation against a lobbyist exposed claims of his role in the Texas Capitol’s culture of sexual harassment,” by Cassi Pollock

An accusation of sexual assault against a lobbyist at a prominent Austin firm rocked the Capitol this spring. The allegation turned out to be false — but it laid bare larger questions about a Capitol culture that many female staffers say often leads to allegations of misconduct and harassment being brushed under the rug by those with the power to act.

“Those past allegations include offering graphic descriptions of sex acts inside a House member’s office, openly speculating about the sex lives of female and male employees, and creating “an office contest” in which Dennis demanded that he, as winner, would be able to “shoot white yogurt” onto the face of the loser, a female subordinate. Those complaints, though, appeared to have little effect on his stature at the Capitol.”

“‘God’s will is being thwarted.’ Even in solid Republican counties, hard-liners seek more partisan control of elections,” by Jeremy Schwartz

Former President Donald Trump won Hood County in 2020 with 81% of the vote. His supporters pushed out the county election administrator anyway. This story was published weeks before she resigned.

“The attacks have confounded Carew, 47, whose job is nonpartisan, but who has voted in Republican primaries for the past 11 years, according to public records. Stress now invades her sleep, waking her up at night as her mind replays the barrage of accusations against her, she said in a recent interview.

‘I had no idea what I was getting into.’”

Texas enabled the worst carbon monoxide poisoning catastrophe in recent U.S. history,” by Perla Trevizo, Ren Larson, Lexi Churchill, Mike Hixenbaugh and Suzy Khimm

Many Texans used their cars to stay warm when a winter storm brought down the Texas power grid. In a state that doesn’t require carbon monoxide alarms in homes, they had no warning they were poisoning themselves.

“When Bekele went back inside 30 minutes later, he found Mersha slumped over in the driver’s seat, poisoned by the fumes flowing from the car’s tailpipe. Confused, he shook her and called her name. Still on the line, the friend in Colorado pleaded over the car’s speakers for someone to explain what was happening. Not knowing what else to do, Bekele, a devout Christian, ran and grabbed holy water from inside and splashed it on his wife’s face, as his children cried and shouted: ‘What’s wrong with Mama? What’s happening?’”

“‘UT needs rich donors’: Emails show wealthy alumni supporting ‘Eyes of Texas’ threatened to pull donations” by Kate McGee

When Texas Longhorn football players protested the University of Texas’ school song last year, donors threatened to pull their support.

“They demanded that the school stand up to ‘cancel culture’ and firmly get behind the song — or else donors were going to walk away. ‘My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,’ wrote one donor in October.”

Disclosure: Prairie View A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.