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Pushback grows after Florida puts limits on teaching Black history in schools

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

There's growing pushback from scholars and teachers about how Florida has put limits on teaching Black history in schools. As Kerry Sheridan from member station WUSF in Tampa reports, they are mobilizing in Jacksonville.

KERRY SHERIDAN, BYLINE: This summer, Florida changed its curriculum standards. Now students in middle school must learn that skills acquired in slavery could have benefited people who were enslaved. Historian Lisa Brock, a professor emeritus from Kalamazoo College in Michigan, says that's wrong.

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

SHERIDAN: Politicizing the way history is taught has led Florida to ban an AP African American Studies course. And the way Black history is taught in middle school is also changing. James Stewart is a professor emeritus at Penn State University and lives in Sarasota.

JAMES STEWART: If you compare the new standards to the old standards, you can see a lot of sort of retrenchment.

SHERIDAN: For instance, Stewart says 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 say more voices are needed at school board meetings and elsewhere in support of Black history.

MARVIN DULANEY: By the way, I've been a teacher of Black history since 1975.

SHERIDAN: That's Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

DULANEY: And so I'm sort of, you know, discouraged and angry about what's happening in Florida, that they're trying to turn it into something evil and harmful to children.

SHERIDAN: His group is holding its annual conference next month in Jacksonville. Dulaney says one of the sessions at the conference is called...

DULANEY: How to Teach Black History Without Going to Jail (laughter).

SHERIDAN: What's humorous, he says, is there's no need for teachers to avoid Black history ever.

DULANEY: They don't have to stay away from topics such as slavery and the civil rights movement. They indeed can incorporate those things into the curriculum without it being, quote, "offensive" to anybody.

SHERIDAN: Dulaney says they decided on the six-day conference in Jacksonville long before a white gunman killed three Black people in a dollar store this weekend. And despite the NAACP's travel advisory saying Florida is hostile, Dulaney says they need to be there.

DULANEY: We're using the theme of running to the fight.

SHERIDAN: He says now more than ever, 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.

For NPR News, I'm Kerry Sheridan in Tampa.

(SOUNDBITE OF REDI HASA'S "DAJTI MOUNTAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kerry Sheridan