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'We cannot be afraid': Black leaders rail against new African American history standards

Anthony Durden attends a forum on Black history curriculum in Florida's schools, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)
Daniel Kozin/AP
/
AP
Anthony Durden attends a forum on Black history curriculum in Florida's schools, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)

Parents, educators and local officials had hoped to speak directly to Florida's education commissioner about the controversial new Black history standards his department is implementing. But Manny Diaz didn't attend the town hall.

Hundreds of people packed into a sanctuary on Thursday evening for a town hall on the teaching of African American history — but Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz was not among them.

“[Governor] Ron DeSantis knew that this was going on. Manny Diaz knew that this was going on. They know how important this is to the Black community. They know that they have thrown an academic bomb in our community. And they know that they should have been here tonight to face you,” said panelist Fedrick Ingram, the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers. “Manny Diaz is a coward.”

A placard for Commissioner Many Diaz is seen, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Miami Garden, Fla. Lawmakers, teachers, school board members and parents crowded into a South Florida church Thursday evening for a forum on Florida's new standards for teaching Black history. But one person who didn't attend after previously RSVPing was on the minds of most participants — Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the man responsible for overseeing the standards. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)
Daniel Kozin/AP
/
AP
A placard for Commissioner Many Diaz is seen, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023 in Miami Garden, Fla. Lawmakers, teachers, school board members and parents crowded into a South Florida church Thursday evening for a forum on Florida's new standards for teaching Black history. But one person who didn't attend after previously RSVPing was on the minds of most participants — Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the man responsible for overseeing the standards. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)

The event was billed as a venue for the public to question Florida’s top ed official on the state’s new academic standards for African American history — and Diaz had confirmed he would be there, organizers said. But he pulled out of the event.

“As I told [event organizer Sen. Shevrin Jones] last week, I will be visiting schools throughout the state to welcome back students, parents and teachers for the first day of school,” Diaz tweeted the evening before the town hall.

Thursday’s event was organized in response to the state’s new standards, which were approved by the the Florida Board of Education in July. The changes drew public outrage and international attention for what advocates say is a distorted and incomplete telling of Black history.

A flurry of state restrictions limiting how public school teachers can address race, identity and history — and the targeting of novels and textbooks that feature people of color and LGBTQ people — has educators questioning how they can do their jobs with integrity.

READ MORE: 'Blatant distortion': Head of Black history for Palm Beach County schools blasts new guidelines

“If I refuse to take the book off the shelf to appease the principal — which is to appease the folks downtown. Who's going to ensure I have a job? I can't depend on my union to do everything,” said Broward County teacher Kimberly Foster-Baldwin. “Who's going to protect me?”

The revised standards include instruction that enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit," and requires that students be taught about acts of violence committed by African Americans alongside racial terror attacks carried out against the Black community, such as the 1920 Ocoee Massacre.

“We have to do what’s right. We have to tell the truth. And we have to be unapologetically about it,” said State. Sen. Rosalind Osgood, a former Broward County School Board member. “This issue is about Blackness. We cannot be afraid to call it what it is. We’ve seen this playbook before.”

'Without your history, you are nothing'

Ambitious Republican leaders have long seized on white grievance to animate the party's most passionate voters. But DeSantis has embraced far-right positions on race perhaps more aggressively than anyone in the 2024 presidential contest as he tries to position himself to the right of former President Donald Trump.

Attendees pointed to the targeting of Black history and to DeSantis’ recent ouster of an elected Democratic prosecutor in Central Florida, who is a Black woman.

Lawmakers, teachers, school board members and parents gather for a town hall meeting on new Florida curriculum standards for Black history, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)
Daniel Kozin
/
AP
Lawmakers, teachers, school board members and parents gather for a town hall meeting on new Florida curriculum standards for Black history, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Daniel Kozin)

“This is not about education … this is about their desire to preserve white supremacy,” said attendee Verne Alexander. “What they have to do is take away the foundation of Black history. Because without your history, you are nothing.”

Thursday’s event was held in the sanctuary of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens — the state’s largest majority-Black city and home to South Florida’s only HBCU, Florida Memorial University.

Attendees say that holding the event at Antioch is more than symbolic — it’s an acknowledgment of the storied role of Black churches as a nexus for social change and political mobilization.

“Brown versus the Board [of Education] was the catalyst for a movement. Many people thought that it was a moment that occurred in a courtroom - but that was the catalyst for civil rights. For women's rights. For equity and opportunity. It all was centered around the education of our children,” said Miami-Dade County School Board Member Steve Gallon. “My prayer is that this becomes a catalyst for a movement.”

Organizers urged the parents, educators and local officials fired up by the town hall to knock on doors, register voters, and to fill the seats in school board meeting rooms and the halls of the state capitol.

“We can represent you the best we can, but we need you there,” Osgood said. “Your pain. Your frustration. We need to get your story. We need to get your body to Tallahassee.”

“It's easy for people to harm us if they don't have to face us,” she added.

The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.
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