Activists and protesters march to the Florida Capitol building on Feb. 15, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
Hundreds of Floridians, civil rights activists and religious leaders from across the state marched Wednesday from Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church to the Florida Capitol building complex in protest of efforts to “whitewash” Black history by rejecting an Advanced Placement course in high school on African American studies.
The large crowd also included students and older folks and many Black activists and advocates — including civil rights leader Al Sharpton — who rallied against the DeSantis administration over what students can learn in school regarding Black history and other topics.
At the historic church, Ben Frazier, with the advocacy group Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said that the DeSantis administration is attacking the rights to tell the truth about slavery, racism and white supremacy.
“Folks, the policies and the practices of this racist DeSantis regime, are in fact a vile and poisonous form of indoctrination. Simple and sweet: it’s political propaganda. I call it ‘hogwash,'” Frazier told the crowd gathered inside the church. The pews were nearly filled.
“By his efforts to whitewash American history, this governor is trying to turn back the sands of time,” Frazier added. He led the crowd in a chant: “Allow teachers to teach the truth.”
The crowd later left the church to start the march to the Florida Capitol building. There were signs and chants along the road, which led up to the Florida Senate side of the complex outside.
Metaphorically addressing Gov. DeSantis, Bishop Rudolph W. McKissack Jr., a senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville, said that:
“We are not saying you don’t want Black history, but what we’re saying is we won’t let you have it your way. We will not let you tell our story from your perspective.
“We will not let you redact our history so that your children are comfortable. The reality is your children, and other generations can be comfortable now, because our ancestors were uncomfortable,” McKissack continued.
The rally gathered largely in response to an ongoing battle between the DeSantis administration and the century-old nonprofit College Board, which created a new AP African American studies course for high schoolers who can earn college credit.
The Florida Department of Education rejected the then-pilot course, according to a letter sent to the College Board in mid-January, causing a nationwide outcry and concerns that the move diminishes the importance of Black history and Black culture.
But the scope of the march and rally Wednesday spanned far beyond the AP African American studies course. The comments from faith leaders and Florida lawmakers touched on policies impacting the LGBTQ+ community, women, and immigrants.
The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the potential of Gov. Ron DeSantis running for president. Sharpton called DeSantis “baby Trump.”
“Black, Latino, women, LGBTQ — we beat Big Trump. We’ll beat Baby Trump,” he said.
“After Disney one day, after Blacks the next day — he’s like a baby,” Sharpton said. “Give him a pacifier and let some grown folks run the state of Florida.”
After his dig at DeSantis, Sharpton brought it back to teaching Black history to young Floridians.
“You ought to tell the whole story… Our children need to know the whole story. Not to know how bad you were, but how strong they are. We come from a people who fought from the back of a bus to the front of the White House. Tell the whole story,” Sharpton said.
He warned: “If we can’t protect education in Florida, it will jump to Alabama, it will jump to Texas — this is a national crime.”
Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said Wednesday, also spoke to teaching history centered around minority communities.
“Black history is American history. Queer history is American History. Black immigrant history is American history,” Jones said.
He added: “What we are dealing with here in this moment — the structure of a system that continues to perpetuate racism across this country, not just in the state of Florida,” Jones said at the Capitol. “The fight is never just about AP history. The fight is against this strong uprising of racism from people who are seeing the shifting of America.”
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