MIAMI, Fla. – A Florida textbook publishing company has altered the racial context regarding civil rights icon Rosa Parks who was arrested in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a White man.
According to the Miami Herald and New York Times, Studies Weekly, which is used in 45,000 elementary schools, amended the story about Parks to comply with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. law, which prohibits instruction that could make students feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past.
At the same time, the NAACP joined forces with the National Teachers Association, the American Federal of Teachers and Parents Together to fight DeSantis’ act which they claim was designed to alter African-American culture and Black history.
Revising Parks’ story in American history is the latest example of the governor’s cultural wars that Black leaders have criticized as an attack on Blacks and African-American history.
The nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization and teacher unions hosted a town hall meeting in Orlando over the weekend to launch a movement to restore Black history courses that are now limited in Florida classrooms, and to stop the ban on textbooks on courses for critical race theory.
The NAACP also is opposing a proposed bill inspired by the governor in the 2023 Legislative Session that would ban state funding for the state’s public universities and colleges that teach courses on diversity, inclusion and equity.
The movement includes hosting a series of meetings throughout the state, seeking dialogues with state lawmakers, and a possible peaceful protest on the steps of the state Capitol.
If all fails, the groups may seek legal action, which would add to a string of lawsuits filed against the Stop W.O.K.E. initiative and DeSantis’ Don’t Say Gay bill.
A federal judge reportedly temporarily blocked the Stop W.O.K.E. law that would ban the teaching of critical race theory in Florida schools.
Parks’ arrest sparked national outrage and a bus boycott that was pivotal in the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Studies Weekly changed the original version of the book which stated that movement icon Parks was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin.
The amended version of the textbook says "she was told to move to a different seat."
Parks died in 2005 in Detroit, Mich. at the age of 92.
During the town hall meeting, NAACP National Board of Directors Chair Leon W. Russell said DeSantis’ culture wars to rewrite history is rooted in the myth of White supremacy that’s aimed at disregarding Black history.
"Let me say this, if cracking down on ‘wokeness’ means erasing Black history, we are the wokest organization there is," Russell said. "Black history is American history, and we recognize that teaching that history is the only way for Black Americans to thrive the way they are meant to. We will not allow our students’ education to be held hostage for political theater. Every student, regardless of the color of their skin, or the zip code they reside or learn in, deserves access to a holistic, quality curriculum."
Studies Weekly also made changes to their fourth-grade lesson about segregation laws.
In the initial version, the text explained how Black Americans were affected by Jim Crow laws that arose after the Civil War. Like its updates to the Parks lesson, the second version eliminated almost every direct mention of race.
Instead, the lessons were changed to say it was illegal for "men of certain groups" to be unemployed and that "certain groups of people" were not allowed to serve on a jury.
Democrats criticized DeSantis for repackaging Florida’s education system to align with his political agenda in a more aggressive conservative approach, all indications of his reported bid for the White House in 2024.
DeSantis’ Republican-controlled Legislature rejected more than 40 textbooks with topics including critical race theory that explain systemic racism in the United States.
Although Florida’s Department of Education mandates the teaching of Black history, critical race theory is banned in Florida public schools, though most experts on the subject say it is not taught in elementary or even high schools.
Rebecca Pringle, president of the National Teachers Association, one of the largest teacher unions in America representing three million educators, said she is joining the fight because teachers’ and students’ right to teach and learn about Black history are being violated.
"I am here because we are fighting with our parents, educators and students," Pringle, a middle school science teacher with 31 years of classroom experience, said at the town hall meeting. "Teachers have a right to teach and students have a right to learn and we will not stand by and allow the state to ban these textbooks. Students have the right to learn about the true history and contributions made to this country by Blacks."
Pringle added: "The governor of this state is focusing on banning books but we are focused on making sure to have books in front of our students that show them about diversity which is the strength of this country and we will not stop. We and the NAACP are taking a stand to fight for our children."
American Federal of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. initiative is beyond restricting lessons on race in the classrooms.
"This is not simply a labor issue. This is not just an academic freedom issue," said Weingarten. "This is about whether or not as Americans we are actually going to move forward to be an inclusive, diverse, multiethnic, multiracial democracy, and you’re on the front lines of that.”
Weingarten said the organization kicked off a series of conversations at town hall meetings and on social media to address the intersection of race, higher education and the labor movement, as Black professionals share their experiences in higher education.
"As lawmakers in places like Florida continue to target public education at every level, trying to restrict teaching about Black history and banning books by and about Black, Latino and other marginalized people, the AFT has created a new forum to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion," Weingarten said.
On the college level, a bill to ban state funding for Florida’s public colleges and universities teaching courses in diversity, inclusion and equity could have damaging consequences including a decline in student enrollments, according to those clashing with the governor over the proposed law.
“In Florida, we are not going to back down to the woke mob, and we will expose the scams they are trying to push onto students across the country,” said DeSantis. “Florida students will receive an education, not a political indoctrination.”
The NAACP Miami-Dade branch denounced the bill because it could ban college major or minor degrees that are associated with race studies, ethnic studies, gender theory and social justice.
Ray Rodrigues, Chancellor of the State of University System of Florida, said it is time that "we refocus our" efforts towards the distinct mission of higher education.
"The pursuit of truth, the communication of that truth, which is teaching, and the selfless act of others, which is service, is the way we want to proceed," Rodrigues said. “We value academic excellence, and therefore merit-based outcomes, instead of liberal ideologies, will be prioritized for all of our students across the system."