Black leaders call out DeSantis at rally

Rev. Al Sharpton (left) stood beside Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. (right) as he fielded questions from reporters at the Capitol following Wednesday’s rally.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Rev. RB Holmes (center) and Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr. (left) prepare marchers for their trek to the Capitol.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

 Rejection of the Advance Placement course on African American history prompted the call for a rally.

When it was done Wednesday afternoon, Black legislators, leaders of civil right organizations and member of the clergy called out Gov. Ron DeSantis for a lot more.

The governor’s attack on education was mentioned by just about every speaker, including Rev. Al Sharpton. DeSantis’ attack on equity, inclusion and diversity were also protested along with his immigration policies and threats against colleges and universities.

Throughout the afternoon, speakers reminded DeSantis that Blacks have overcome adversities, going back to slavery.

“If you would study history, governor,” Sharpton said, “you should have known that to mess with us in education always ends in your defeat.”

More than 1,000 people showed up in front the Senate Office Building at the Capitol for the rally that was organized by Rev. RB Holmes, the local president of the National Action Network. 

“We have come here today to make it abundantly clear that American history is Black History,” said Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church where the march started. “Black history does not lack educational value. Black history is not trash. Black history is not junk, Mr. Governor. And, Black history is not inferior. 

“We have come to say to this country that our history will not be whitewashed, watered down, demeaned nor marginalized. We are not here to put down anybody’s history; we are here to say that our history would not be disrespected by anyone. Black history doesn’t make any one uncomfortable, Racism makes people uncomfortable. … We will tell our story.”

The push back against DeSantis’ attack was in response to his rejection of an initial version of the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course. Changes have been made to the college-level course for high school students. However, DeSantis has since threatened to dismantle the board.

The board said it has not yet submitted a final draft of the course to Florida Department of Education. But meanwhile a feud between the governor and the board has heated up.

“Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers,” said statement from the board. “The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result.” 

Sharpton said it’s important to stop Florida’s attack on Black history, expressing concern that other states will follow suit. He also called on the crowd to join a voter registration campaign.

“We need to make it clear that we will vote in every election; not on a party but on an agenda,” said Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network. “Anyone that doesn’t stand up for us; we are going to stand up against them. You’re picking a fight; you’re going to get a fight.”

He used the biblical story of David and Goliath, saying he is confident God will find a way for Blacks to win.

“We will stand together, we will march together,” Sharpton said. “We will fight together. We’ve got our sling shots. We’ve got our sling shot. We’ve got our sling shot.”

Following prayer at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church for about an hour, marchers set out from Martin Luther King Blvd., taking a path along Call Street to Adams Street and on to the Capitol.

A few were in wheelchairs, some used walking canes and most pushed their way through on a mild afternoon.

Among the marchers were school children, college students and young leaders of civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and Dream Defenders.

They shouted chants, including one that said, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Ron DeSantis got to go.”

Among the marchers were several members of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition led by Ben Frazier, who organized a motorcade to Tallahassee the night before the rally.

DeSantis’ attack on Black history includes an edit that he issued to school districts to keep certain reading material out of sight. They include books that mention civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and baseball players Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. 

“You have had the nerve to say you will take funding from schools that have any courses on equity, inclusion and diversity,” said Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr., senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville. “That is why we are here today. The reality is, Mr. Governor, if you don’t want our students you don’t want our story (and) you shouldn’t get our students.”

He later said: “We will not let you tell our story from your perspective. We will not let you redact our history so your children are comfortable. The reality is your children and other generations can be comfortable now because our ancestors were uncomfortable.”

Senator Shevrin D. Jones, a Democrat from Miami, said the governor’s attack is intended to be a distraction from other issues such as the potential loss of government benefits that many of his constituents face.

“If you come for one of us you come for all of us,” Jones said. “We have seen this before, we won before and we’ll win again.”

While the AP course issue has become entangled in politics, Jones said it shouldn’t be a racial or partisan issue.

“This is about the truth,” he said. “We are demanding that this governor allow teachers to teach the truth. It is also unfortunate that he does not want our blood, sweat and tears for that story to be told. We have made contributions in the making of America.

“He doesn’t want the truth story to be told … the truth about slavery, lynching, discrimination (and) White supremacy. That is wrong and it is not the truth.

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