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Florida's Attempts at a Rewriting of Black History

The Cotton pickers. Acrylic on canvas painting (24"x48") by Richard Hugh Blackford

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has decided to show his colors as his administration pushes ahead with a curriculum targeted to Middle schools in the State that serves as an attempt at rewriting the history of Florida’s Black population. Over the past three years, DeSantis, a current candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has led his state through a rapid-fire reevaluation of Black history education. In that time, Florida has adopted laws restricting the teaching of race, as well as repudiating an Advanced Placement course that DeSantis blasted as “woke”; and, in late July, approved a set of history standards emphasizing the benefits of slavery for the enslaved. According to him "They're probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life," DeSantis said at a recent press conference.

Pushback and support for Florida's Black History Rewrite DeSantis’s initiatives have divided and riveted not only his state, but also the nation with many, including Vice-President Kamala Harris warning that these efforts threaten to erase the reality of Black lives. Andrew Spar, head of the Florida Education Association has himself stated that “They are whitewashing history and the African American experience in the United States.” Even so, DeSantis has garnered support from the likes of Dr. William B. Allen, a member of Florida’s African American History Standards working group, in support of the curriculum that he helped develop. According to the Washington Post, when contacted for comment, Allen, a Black professor emeritus at Michigan State University, wrote in an email that the goal of the standards is to tell the truth.

“It is correct that people held in slavery both arrived with and developed skills that inured to their personal benefit and accomplishment,” Allen wrote. “I stand behind the work of the group in its literal rendering.”

America’s Racist Legacy One wonders where Dr. Allen lived his life and studied as the facts and lived experiences of thousands of historical figures underscores the view that Racism in America is not just complex, but also a deeply entrenched issue that extends beyond individual attitudes and behaviors. Racism is a systemic and structural problem that has historical roots and manifests in various aspects of society and is embedded within the structures and institutions of society, leading to disparities in areas such as education, employment, housing, criminal justice, and healthcare. These disparities are the result of historical and ongoing discriminatory policies and practices born out of the country’s history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination which has left a lasting impact on the social, economic, and political landscape of the United States and has contributed to the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities among racial and ethnic groups.

Blacks built America’s Economy It should be common public knowledge that the economic foundation of early America was significantly influenced by the institution of slavery. Enslaved Black people played a central role in building the wealth and prosperity of this nation, particularly in the Southern states where agriculture, particularly cotton and tobacco, were the major drivers of the economies of the Southern state’s economies. Slave labor was used to cultivate crops, build infrastructure, and contribute to various industries. This system of forced labor enabled plantation owners and other sectors of society to accumulate significant wealth and establish economic dominance. The profits generated from these enterprises contributed to the economic growth and development of the United States, especially during its formative years.

Black labor made Cotton King The growth of cotton production in the American South was primarily fueled by the domestic slave population that had already been established in the country. The forced labor of enslaved Black people played a crucial role in the expansion of cotton cultivation and the expansion of the American economy. These individuals were subjected to inhumane treatment and harsh working conditions, and their labor contributed significantly to the wealth of the Southern states and the overall U.S. economy. Even after slavery’s abolition, the punishing conditions were maintained by the Jim Crow Laws which continued the maintenance of the slave-like conditions into the mid-1960s.

It is crucial that every Black person in America be made aware of the direction that the likes of DeSantis appears to be heading as his efforts are designed to promote the kind of division among Black and White Americans in order to satisfy his own ideological cravings. That his efforts at using this on the campaign trail have been failing miserably, should serve as a catalyst to Floridians of color, to become more active as the political season comes to a boil. After all, your vote is the best weapon in this fight. Be prepared to exercise it.

Richard Hugh Blackford B.Sc., M.S (Ed)

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