By MOHAMED HAMALUDIN Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ most recent declaration of war on culture, the Florida Board of Education revised its Black History curriculum to include instruction on how slaves beneﬁted from skills they learned and highlighting achievements of African Americans rather than the injustices they faced.
African American neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson gained world acclaim as a member of a team of Johns Hopkins surgeons who, on Labor Day 1987, separated two German babies conjoined at the head. Nearly 30 years later, he gained a different kind of fame when, as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Carson declared that slaves had been immigrants “who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less, but they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, greatgrandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
… ACCORDING TO A USHISTORY.COM ONLINE POST WHICH SAYS SLAVES HAD “FOOD SOMETIMES NOT SUITABLE FOR AN ANIMAL TO EAT.”
Now, six years later, a state-sponsored African American History Standards Workgroup is defending new guidelines for teaching African American history in Florida that include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal beneﬁt.” The State Education Board on July 19 formally adopted the standards which also require that “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.”
Not surprisingly, swift condemnation came from educators, politicians — including Republicans — and the NAACP and the ACLU. The board responded with a statement to NBC News, attributed to two members of the workgroup identiﬁed as William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, insisting that “some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they beneﬁted. This is factual and well documented."
As proof, the statement referred to “blacksmiths like Ned Cobb, Henry Blair, Lewis Latimer and John Henry; shoemakers like James Forten, Paul Cuffe and Betty Washington Lewis; ﬁshing and shipping industry workers like Jupiter Hammon, John Chavis, William Whipper and Crispus Attucks; tailors like Elizabeth Keckley, James Thomas and Marietta Carter; and teachers like Betsey
Stockton and Booker T. Washington.” Several sources have, however, said that some of them had never been slaves or had acquired their skills after slavery. And, in any case, the Census reported that slaves numbered four million in 1860, not just a handful.
The history of American slavery is well documented and it takes a special kind of person to want to push this false narrative on young Americans. Shame on them and especially on those who see their own validation as dependent on the invalidation of others. But it originated from a source not especially known for shame. The Ron DeSantis administration hired Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo as surgeongeneral, in charge of Covid-19 policy with no experience dealing with viruses but willing to spout the DeSantis line. Christopher Leo, point person on critical race theory, has expertise not in that ﬁeld but in cultural warfare. So, too, evidently, the African American History Standards Workgroup, willing to defend slander against their race.
The new standards prompted Vice President Kamala Harris to make a special trip to Florida, where, speaking Friday in Jacksonville, she accused “extremist so-called leaders” of wanting “to replace history with lies” and to teach high schoolers “that victims of violence, of massacres, were also perpetrators.”
Former Texas Congressman Will Hurd, son of an African American father and a European American mother and a Republican presidential candidate, declared, “Slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneﬁcial skills. It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”
Florida International University professor emeritus Marvin Dunn, who is striving to keep African American history in Florida alive with his “Teach the Truth” tours, denounced the “attempt to reach some sort of equivalency for racial violence in our history.” It is “evil” to assert that slaves beneﬁted from their subjugation, Dunn told The Miami Herard.
None of this is new. The fantasy of slavery as “a positive good” existed in the South prior to the Civil War, with politicians and intellectuals defending it, according to a Wikipedia entry, “as a benevolent, paternalistic institution with social and economic beneﬁts, an important bulwark of civilization, and a divine institution similar or superior to the free labor in the North.” John C. Calhoun, seventh U.S. vice president, proclaimed, “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.” Slaves, Calhoun said, “came to us in a low, degraded, and savage condition and, in the course of a few generations, have grown up under the fostering care of our institutions.”
Not so, according to a ushistory.com online post which says slaves had “food sometimes not suitable for an animal to eat.” Slave Codes barred them from being educated, their families could be broken up through the sale of one or more members. And this: “Any slave found guilty of arson, rape of a white woman, or conspiracy to rebel was put to death. However, since the slave woman was chattel, a white man who raped her was guilty only of a trespass on the master’s property. Rape was common on the plantation and very few cases were ever reported.”
Florida became a slave state on March 3, 1845, when almost half the population were enslaved Africans working on large cotton and sugar plantations between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers, according to Wikipedia. By 1860, 44 percent of the population of 140,424 were slaves, whose free labor accounted for 85 percent of the state’s cotton production. Florida joined the Confederacy in 1861 for the same reason it was formed: "protection of slavery." Federal authority was re-established In May 1865 and slavery was abolished.
DeSantis, as governor, has an obligation to help make whole the descendants of those whom slavery grievously wronged. Instead, he exploits “white grievance” and packages it with legal attacks on “woke;” critical race theory; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) initiatives, along with making voting and peaceful protest against injustice difﬁcult. There is a cynical plan behind it. A businessman in the Polish serial “Raven” tells an employee, “Marketing is about raising expectations and then satisfying the needs you created.” Or, as Jacob Silverman put it in his Nation feature on the rightwing site Rumble, it involves “a canny ability to market standard whiteguy belligerence and personal dysfunction as rebellious, novel and brash.”
In answer to a reporter’s question Friday, DeSantis said he had not been involved in creating the new standards but, he maintained, “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a black- smith into doing things later in life.” He said that “a lot of scholars” created “the most robust standards in African American history probably anywhere in the country.”
Of course he will say that. The late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, in a 1994 interview with Paris Review. remarked, “There is that great proverb that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." DeSantis obviously sees himself as the successful great white hunter of all things “woke” and wants Americans to reward him with the presidency. He boasts that large numbers of tourists and new residents are coming to Florida because he made it “the freest state” in the nation. At least, so far, he has not claimed credit for the real attractions that bring them: the sunshine, the beaches, absence of a state income tax and protecting primary residences from liens. That may soon come, though, because his campaign has portrayed him as chosen by God to perform divine works.
But, to all the culture warriors, there is a message in the late Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Nelson’s 1977 song “King Liar” warning that “Teacher Percy say if you tell a lie you going to hell as soon as you die.”