The Task force creating a new Black history curriculum include Chair Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr., left, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee; Rev. Carl Johnson, pastor of Miami’s 93rd Street Baptist Church; Elder James Morris, presiding Bishop for CME Council of Churches; and Bishop James E. Wright of Truth Worship Center in Miami Gardens. PHOTOS COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
MIAMI, Fla. – Outraged over the Florida Department of Education’s new curriculum for African American history in which students will be taught that Negros beneﬁted from slavery by learning job skills, a coalition of Black churches is preparing a course of its own for students for Black History Month.
During the Florida General Baptist Convention in Orlando last week, Black pastors throughout Florida, in conjunction with the Congress of Christian Education, launched the Teaching Our History movement which includes a task force piecing together a new curriculum in contrast to the watered-down version currently being taught in Florida’s public schools.
The task force plans to present the course, which details the most accurate depictions of Black history including hardships and triumphs during servitude, to the education board and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking approval to allow the curriculum in the schools every February starting in 2024.
Task force members include Chair Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel Mission ary Baptist Church in Tallahassee; Rev. Carl Johnson, pastor of Miami’s 93rd Street Baptist Church, and president of the Baptist Convention; Elder James Mor ris, presiding Bishop for CME Council of Churches; Bishop James E. Wright of Truth Worship Center in Miami Gardens; former state senator Tony Hill; and Bre vard County School Board member Jen nifer Jenkins, who implemented a curriculum telling the story of slain Florida civil rights leaders Harry and Harriette T. Moore.
Holmes told the South Florida Times Black churches are getting involved because they were ground zero for the Civil Rights movement and other deﬁning events in Black history.
"From Key West to St. Augustine, the black church has played a signiﬁcant role in the African American community and the history of Florida," said Holmes. "Some of the ﬁrst Black churches built by slaves are still standing."
Holmes said the Teaching Our History movement includes historians, scholars and other educators creating a course that tells the stories of African-American history and to include crucial events that were left out of the state’s curriculum like the mistreatment and violence against slaves at the hands of whites, and Blacks ﬁghting for their Civil Rights for decades after slavery was abolished. Holmes said the proposed curriculum frames the entire picture of Black history that students of different races can learn about their ancestors.
"We are going to act on this issue and will present this curriculum for students in middle school and high school," Holmes said. "We are excited about it and we will make it happen."
Holmes said the task force will also encourage churches throughout Florida to teach the curriculum during Sunday School, and get private schools, which are exempt from the state’s mandated course, on board as well.
"We have to hold the government accountable for teaching water down Black history," he said. "This is a battle for our values, morals and heritage."
DeSantis and members of the education board couldn’t be reached for comment on whether they would welcome the curriculum for Black History Month.
The education board adopted the controversial African-American history course in July after the standards were crafted by 13 educators with a PH.D including Dr. William B. Allen who’s an African-American and the dean of political philosophy at James Madison College.
In July, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, a Republican senator from Hialeah, said the changes were part of DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act which limits systemic racism in public schools and businesses.
The new course will also teach students that Blacks initiated violence including the Rosewood massacre in 1923 in Levy County, Fla., where dozens of Blacks were killed in a racially motivated attack.
The course, which omitted the hardships, violence and rape Blacks endured during slavery and the Jim Crow era, caused an uproar in the Black community.
State Sens. Shervin Jones and Rosiland Osgood, and Miami-Dade County School Board member Dr. Steve Gallon III called a town hall meeting in August for Diaz to address the new standards but he backed out at the last minute saying he had to make sure students and teachers were prepared for the new school.
"The education town hall was not just a moment, it was the continuation of a movement," Jones said. "The people came in ready to listen, but they left ready to work. We recognize that no one is coming to save us, so we are organizing and prepared to save ourselves."
The course even drew the ire of Vice President Kamala Harris who paid a visit to Florida in July just to condemn the curriculum, saying the new educational framework will deprive students of the truth about Black history.
“Adults know what slavery really involves," she said. "It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother. So in the context of that, how is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any beneﬁt to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Black church pastors throughout Florida also criticized DeSantis for attempting to whitewash Black history and are planning to organize a march in Tallahassee to protest the controversial course.
In response, DeSantis said in a statement last month, "I didn’t make them do it," he said, referring to the education board.
But Johnson said he appointed the members to the education board.
“Mr. Governor, if you sign something, it’s your decree," Johnson said. "I believe you are a Christian man. We want to meet with him to talk about corrective action.”
Allen, who’s also chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, also faced criticism over the course as slavery is being portrayed as a job training program.
"Those who were held in slavery possessed skills, whether they developed them before being held in slavery, while being held in slavery or subsequently to being held in slavery, from which they beneﬁted when they applied themselves in the exertion of those skills," Allen said during an interview with Miami’s WLRN 91.3 FM radio. "That’s not a statement that is at all controversial. The facts sustain it. The testimonies of the people who lived the history sustain it."
Allen, who was born in Fernandina Beach, Fla., said he didn’t write the narratives of the course; it was a combined effort by the group.
"Let me emphasize that I’m not the author, and no one in the work group is the author, he said. "This was a collaborative process, a deliberative process, and the result is a consensual agreement. Therefore, I do not speak to the intentions of the work group, and I don’t substitute my intentions for the work group."
The NAACP, which issued a travel advisory this year over DeSantis’ legislation targeting Blacks and the LGBTQ community, disagreed with Allen and the group’s portrayal of Black history and praised the Black churches for banding together to create a different curriculum.
"Over the next several months, the task force will write and publish a corrective model and curriculum to teach Black history that is authentic, accurate and factual," the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch said in a statement.