TAMPA, Fla. — Outrage continued Monday over Florida’s new standards for teaching Black history.
“He’s not going to rewrite and redefine black history, not while we’re still alive,” said Reverend Dr. RB Holmes Jr. of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church during a Zoom call with other Florida religious leaders, civil rights activists, and community organizers.
The group held a virtual press conference Monday morning to announce a series of actions they are taking in response to Florida’s newly adopted social studies curriculum for middle schoolers. Critics believe the curriculum, which Florida’s Board of Education approved last week, suggests slaves benefited from being enslaved.
“It’s just insulting, it’s demeaning, it should not exist,” said Transformative Justice Coalition’s Barbara Arnwine.
While the new guidelines include teaching some of the harsh conditions slaves were subject to, it also includes instruction on how slaves “developed skills, which in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” according to the curriculum.
“It’s insulting to imply that somehow we have to be enslaved to get any kind of skills,” Arnwine added during the Zoom.
As a result, Reverand Holmes Jr. announced they will be protesting the new education policies by holding demonstrations, creating their own history teaching task force, opening new “freedom” schools, and filing a new lawsuit against the state.
During a presidential campaign stop in Utah over the weekend, Governor Ron DeSantis appeared to try to distance himself from his home state’s latest classroom controversy.
“I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved in it,” he said before quickly doubling down.
“I think what they’re doing is probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” DeSantis said when asked about it by reporters.
DeSantis’ press team was quick to strike back by tweeting out excerpts from a recent ABC News interview with Dr. William Allen, one of the members who served on Florida’s African American history standards work group, which helped create the new standards.
“It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans. What was said, and anyone who reads this will see this with clarity, is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient, and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit both while enslaved and after enslavement,” Dr. Allen told ABC News.
“You can develop resiliency in a million ways. It doesn't have to involve the enslavement of Black bodies,” said House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell on Monday. Over the weekend, she called for the resignation of Florida’s Education Commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr., a former Republican Senator before Governor DeSantis appointed him the state’s education boss.
“What they're suggesting is that look on the bright side of slavery. There is no bright side,” said Fentrice.
Last week Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz tweeted that Florida is focused on teaching accurate African American history. As for calls for his resignation, as of Monday afternoon, neither the Commissioner nor his office provided a response.