Home Christian News Faith Leaders Renew Push for ‘Accurate’ Black History Education in Florida

Faith Leaders Renew Push for ‘Accurate’ Black History Education in Florida

Black History
People chat slogans during the "Teach No Lies" march to the School Board of Miami-Dade County to protest Florida's new standards for teaching Black history, which have come under intense criticism for what they say about slavery, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(RNS) — Faith leaders in Florida and their supporters are redoubling efforts to ensure Black history is taught widely and truthfully in reaction to the state’s rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies and changes to state academic standards about public school history instruction about slavery.

Starting Thursday (Feb. 29), leaders of Faith in Florida, who last year created an online toolkit for churches wanting to teach Black history, will meet in Orlando for a training session with Florida educators and others to share how they have used it.

In the same week, Black Baptist clergy, scholars and curriculum publishers organized by the Florida General Baptist Convention will meet at a church in Tallahassee for a symposium called “Teaching Our Own History.” The participants intend to review a curriculum outline they hope will be used in schools and churches across the state.

“Our march is not for a moment but it’s for a movement,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and host of the two-day symposium set to begin on Monday.

The developments come after state social studies authorities suggested that lessons about slavery in America could include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Holmes said in an interview that Baptist leaders plan to present their model for teaching African and African American history as an alternative to the “hurtful” state curriculum and will share details of it with state government officials at the conclusion of the symposium.

“We will present to the governor of Florida, the Commissioner of Education and the Board of Education a factual, accurate and correct teaching of African American history in our public schools,” Holmes said in a statement. “An enslaved people didn’t derive any benefits from slavery; slavery was brutal, treacherous, sinful and unscrupulous.”

The Rev. Carl Johnson, president of the Florida General Baptist Convention, said the new curriculum guide will be available statewide starting in 2025 and he hopes other Baptist state conventions affiliated with the National Baptist Convention, USA, will follow its model.

“Our primary goal is to dispel any myth that’s not accurate about our history,” he said in an interview. “We’re crafting information to correct those misnomers.”

Leaders of the “Teaching Our Own History” task force said more than 50 churches and organizations have committed to using the curriculum guide at “freedom schools” organized to teach Black history, following a model created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s that provided academic enrichment and trained students about social change.

The 2023 Florida education statutes allow public school teachers to discuss “the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society.” But they say instruction “may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with … the state academic standards.”

Dana Thompson Dorsey, an associate professor of education law at the University of South Florida who chairs the Baptist leaders’ curriculum committee, said the outline includes Black inventors such as Garrett Morgan, who created the yellow caution light in the traffic signal, and Otis Boykin, who created a crucial component of the pacemaker.