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Black scholars will mobilize in Jacksonville next month after a racist shooting

Man wearing shirt: Slavery Did Not Benefit Black People
Daniel Kozin
Anthony Durden attends a forum on Black history curriculum in Florida's schools, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Miami Gardens.

The ASALH conference runs from Sept 20-24 with a focus on Black resistance and the teaching of Black history.

There is growing pushback from scholars and teachers about how Florida has put limits on teaching Black history in schools, and they are mobilizing in Jacksonville for a major conference next month.

Leaders of Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) say they won’t be deterred by the shooting Saturday by a white gunman who killed three Black people in a Dollar Store, and then himself.

“In light of Saturday's tragedy, ASALH is even more determined to go to Jacksonville and hold its conference. We will not be intimidated and scared away from promoting Black history,” said ASALH president Marvin Dulaney.

Planning for the five-day conference, focusing on Black history and Black resistance, has been underway for months, and came despite an NAACP travel advisory that declared: “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

A conference flyer shows a walkway into a Florida swamp and advertises the ASALH conference in Jacksonville Sept 20-24

The travel advisory was issued “in direct response to Governor Ron DeSantis' aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools,” the NAACP said in May.

Under the DeSantis administration, Florida changed its curriculum standards over the summer, so students in middle school must learn that skills acquired in slavery could have benefited people who were enslaved.

According to Lisa Brock, a professor emeritus from Kalamazoo College in Michigan, ads from the time, posted at slave trading markets and in newspapers, tell a different story.

"When you look at the ads for sales of captives from Africa, into enslavement, they say things like ‘10 Negros from Benin familiar with iron working.’ Oh, yes. ‘A hundred strong bucks from Senegambia, able to produce rice,’ because they came with skills," said Brock.

DeSantis has said critics of the standards are intentionally misinterpreting one line of a sweeping curriculum that was approved by African American scholar William B. Allen.

Dt. Lisa Brock appears on a Zoom call, with a cemetery in the background
Dr. Lisa Brock has written extensively on Black history.

Brock will be leading an event at the conference on reading banned books.

“When you don’t teach Black history, it leads white people to think they are superior,” said Brock. “Thus empowering those who would commit violence.”

Florida this year banned students from taking a new Advanced Placement (AP) African-American Studies course, and altered the way Black history is taught in K-12 as well.

"If you compare the new standards to the old standards, you can see a lot of, sort of retrenchment,” said James Stewart, a professor emeritus at Penn State University who lives in Sarasota.

For instance, Stewart said some parts of the Florida standards go back to using the word "slaves," whereas historians today more commonly say "enslaved people" to humanize what they endured.

Scholars like Stewart, Brock and Dulaney say more voices are needed, at school board meetings and elsewhere, in support of Black history.

Dr. James Stewart in a home office filled with books, and wears a T-shirt that reads: Black History Matters
WUSF Public Media
Sarasota resident Dr. James B. Stewart is an author, economist and scholar of Black studies.

“We're using the theme of running to the fight,” said Dulaney.

“I've been a teacher of Black history since 1975. So, I'm discouraged and angry about what's happening in Florida, that they try to turn it into something evil and harmful to children," he said.

The conference begins with community outreach on Sept. 19, and aims to give teachers tools and strategies for navigating this politicized environment.

Dulaney said one of sessions at the conference is called "How to teach Black history without going to jail.”

Dr. William Marvin Dulaney appears on a Zoom call with the ASALH logo in the background
Dr. William Marvin Dulaney is a retired professor at the University of Texas at Arlington

“They don't have to stay away from topics such as slavery and the civil rights movement,” said Dulaney. “They indeed can incorporate those things into the curriculum, without it being ‘offensive’ to anybody.”

Conference organizers are in talks with local law enforcement about extra security at the event, Dulaney said.

Dulaney said he and other Black scholars are motivated by the words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.