“Like many of you, ASALH has followed the actions that Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and other conservative lawmakers have taken against teaching Black History and the histories of other historically marginalized communities,” he said. “We have especially followed the actions taken by DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education on the AP African American Studies course, as well as the legislation passed against ‘woke’ curricula in the state.
Here in Essex County, New Jersey, other Black leaders continue to condemn efforts like those led by DeSantis, who has not only endorsed Florida’s revised public school curriculum but who recently asserted that “some Blacks benefited from slavery.”
Larry Hamm, chairman of the Newark-based activist group People’s Organization for Progress, states, “The centuries of enslavement of African people in the United States is one of the most uniquely horrific chapters of human history. It was a crime against humanity,”
Hamm further adds, “The assertion by the Florida State Board of Education social studies curriculum that slavery was personally beneficial to the enslaved is just another version of a long-standing racist and white supremacist lie that slavery was good for black people. This is a form of racist indoctrination and is yet another example of institutionalized racism in education and an affront to human dignity that must be condemned in no uncertain terms.”
Florida’s new law has been criticized by other civil rights groups and free-speech advocates, including Charles Hall Jr, president, Local 108 RWDSU-UFCW, and T.J. Whitaker, an English language arts and AP African American studies teacher at Maplewood-South Orange Public Schools.
“When we get to the heart of the matter, it’s about teaching the truth – that’s what most of my colleagues and I are focusing on,” said Whitaker, 54, a 23-year-educator now teaching at Columbia High School in Essex County.
“We try not to get caught up in the games that DeSantis and others are playing across the country. If you’re going to teach history, you have to tell the truth about slavery, African empires, the role of Blacks in World War I and II, and the modern-day Black resistance struggle.
“What’s happening in Florida and Texas is also happening in New Jersey – banning books and banning the study of Black history. We have to understand how white supremacy works and we have to be resolute. For the past three years, I have been part of a group, the Teach Truth New Jersey Coalition (www.zinnedproject.org), that’s composed of eight to 10 school districts, and we remain resolved to teach truth – to teach the truth,” he said.
Dr. Akil Khalfani, director of Africana Institute, Essex County College, said efforts like those voiced by DeSantis are nothing new – “they’re just louder today.”
“What we really need to do is to remain diligent about other things that are going on – things that are happening under the table like legislation that continues to be passed,” said Khalfani, 56, who has lived in W. Orange since 1998. “How do we insulate people of African descent from all the negative things going on? We have not studied those things – the past or present – enough.
“The riots of the 60s did not occur overnight. The decimation of our cities and the birth of suburbs did not happen overnight. The plans for and the building of highways that cut through and destroyed productive African American communities did not happen overnight. We need to stay alert because something is awry. I don’t know what it is but black folk cannot afford to be distracted,” Khalfani said.
And while the fight for black equality in America has assumed a myriad of shapes throughout history, it was Congressman John Lewis who once advised when discussing the importance and many layers of black resistance, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Established on September 9, 1915, by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, ASALH continues to carry the torch once held by Dr. Woodson, “the father of Black History, whose labors led to what has since become known as Black History Month. Woodson, who devoted his entire career to educating Americans about the often ignored and inaccurately described contributions that African Americans have made on behalf of their country, remained adamant in the belief that African American history is American history.