Leaders voice objection to rejection of Black history course

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

As far as a group of religious and community leaders are concerned, there is nothing about Black history that should be rejected. 

They made that clear during a Monday morning press conference when they called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to reverse his rejection of a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies. While stating their case the speakers, including three historians, shared a lot about the contributions that Blacks made in Florida.

“This is not a fight against anybody,” said Rev. RB Holmes, who gathered the group inside Bethel Missionary Baptist Church where he is pastor. “It’s a fight against wrong and standing up for what is right.”

Later Holmes, who also is president of the local chapter of the National Action Network, added: “African American history is American history. We must never forget that.

“We must raise our collective and prophetic voices against any attempt to abolish, abort and abandon Black studies.”

The dust up over excluding Black history from the state’s AP curriculum started when a senior director at The College Board that developed the Advanced Placement African American Studies was told by Department of Education’s Office of Articulation last week that Black history courses won’t be offered in Florida public schools.

The Advanced Placement courses are college-level courses that were expected to be in the high school curriculum by this fall semester.

Monday’s press conference will be followed by a rally on Feb. 16, Holmes announced. That event is expected to be attended by several national figures, including Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. Holmes also announced that a potential court challenge will be led by civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.

On the same day that local leaders were voicing their objection, DeSantis was in Jacksonville defending his administration’s decision to reject the course. Without offering any evidence, the governor said he rejected the course because it included “queer theory” and  “abolishing prisons.”

During his press conference, DeSantis said the curriculum is “a political agenda.”

 “That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards,” he said. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

Historians Reginald Ellis and Larry Rivers, both professors at FAMU, shot down the governor’s argument with Black history facts.

“The culture that is in African American studies is very, very vitally important,” said Ellis said. 

A “painstaking amount of time” went into putting the AP curriculum together, he said.

Rivers took time to offer a little Black history lesson. He stated that in 1865 enslaved Floridians were set free and that same year half of Florida’s population was  made up of newly freed Blacks. 

Then, he asked “You can’t talk about their experiences, their trials and their tribulation? You can’t talk about the good, the bad, the ugly in order to give a balance account of Florida’s history?”

Reiterating opening statements by Holmes, who is also publisher of the Capital Outlook, Rivers appealed directly to DeSantis.

“We are here today to request that Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education reconsider their rejection of the AP African American curriculum on the grounds that it lacks educational value,” Rivers said. “We strongly believe that the AP African American studies curriculum was indeed education, very valuable like the AP European history curriculum offered or the AP United States history curriculum or the AP world history curriculum or any of the 30 other AP curricular offered to Florida high school students.”

Tallahassee’s Vice Mayor Dianne Williams-Cox was profound in her stance for the AP course on Black history to stay in the curriculum.

“When you stop at that red light and it changes, a Black man created that,” she said. “When you pull out that iron or somebody pulls out that iron to iron your shirt, a Black person created that. When it gets too hot and you have to turn the air condition on, a Black person created that. And so many more things that you may not give us credit for. But we know the truth.”

As DeSantis’ action draws national attention, some of his Republican supporters are saying that the AP course as written violates state laws. However, current City Commissioner and former state legislator Curtis Richardson, said the curriculum is legal by state law.

He invited the governor to have a conversation, adding, “but if not we will fight like hell to make sure that African American history continues to be a part of American history.”

DeSantis’ stance is a “smoke screen” said Rev. Joseph Wright, pastor at Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church.

 “If you want me to go to school and learn about George Washington and Christopher Columbus I think you ought to come to learn about Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X and a few others,” Wright said.


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