Civil rights leaders, activists, address Florida education standards for teaching African American history

More angry reaction to Florida’s new set of standards for teaching African American history, and the concept that slavery was beneficial to some Blacks because it taught them useful skills. A group of civil rights leaders and pastors held a statewide virtual meeting about the controversial topic, and a spokesperson for DeSantis’ office is responding

Last Wednesday, the Florida Board of Education approved new Black History academic standards amid criticism. Teachers from across Florida objected to the changes. But, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. pushed back saying the standards are developed by the Department of Education’s African American History Task Force.

One of the biggest issues includes how teachers should handle the teaching of slavery in America. A line in the curriculum reads, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

A group that met online Monday call themselves a coalition of concerned citizens, and say the idea that slaves benefitted in any manner while in captivity is counterfactual and demeaning. The governor’s office is pushing back online and now says that the controversial statement about slavery was taken out of context.

″It’s insulting, to imply somehow that we had to be enslaved to get any kind of skills, this is so counterfactual and it’s evil,” Barbara Arnwine with the Transformative Justice Coalition said.

Arnwine is one of nearly a dozen civil rights leaders, activists and attorneys reacting to the new Florida history standards which teach that slaves obtained useful skills while they were being held captive. Arwine argues that slaves were already skilled when they were stolen from their homeland and brought to America in chains.

″We came as skilled people, we were boatmen, we were fishermen, we were agriculturalist, rice cultivators, iron workers, we were known throughout the world for our amazing medical skills, we were botanists,” Arnwine said.

RELATED: Black history standards approved amid criticism

″You would not say that about our Jewish brothers and sisters, that the holocaust, that there were some skills were derived from there,” Reverend RB Holmes, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Tallahassee, said.

Activists say they are planning a series of statewide protests against the new education standards approved last week, which now teaches that Black people were also perpetrators of violence during race massacres. Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump says the new curriculum could have a negative impact on Black students.

″This is going to cause psychological issues for our students telling our students that slavery was good to you all, we may need to deploy psychologists,” Crump said.

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The Governor’s office is responding to the backlash surrounding the new curriculum which was also mentioned by Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Jacksonville Friday.

The Governor’s office is taking issue with how the curriculum is interpreted, pointing to an interview conducted with William B. Allen, a member of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, where he calls the narrative categorically false.

“It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans. What was said, and anyone who reads this with clarity, it is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient, and adaptive and were able to develop skills in aptitudes that served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement.,” Allen said.

A spokesperson for the Biden campaign, Cedric Richmond, called the defense for the curriculum disgusting, saying this in a statement released over the weekend with reads,

this is “a symptom of the extremism that’s infected the Republican candidates running for president. There’s no debate over slavery. It was utterly evil with zero redeeming qualities.”

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.