Home > Uncategorized > The DeSantis Advanced Placement Stunt – posted 1/29/2023

The DeSantis Advanced Placement Stunt – posted 1/29/2023

One of the more blatant publicity-seeking stunts pulled by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been his effort to kill an Advanced Placement course in African-American studies. Following DeSantis’s lead, the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP African-American studies course as “woke indoctrination” and not “historically accurate”.

Florida’s Department of Education cited the inclusion of readings from many African-American scholars, activists and writers who discuss reparations, Black feminism, Black queer theory and intersectionality (how racism, sexism and other forms of oppression work together and build on one another). They singled out Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw and bell hooks as unacceptable. They stated the AP studies class “lacks educational value”.

I have some familiarity with advanced placement courses. Back in 1967-1968, I was in an AP class in American history in high school. A benefit of AP courses is that they allow high school students to obtain college credit. For me it meant not having to take required college courses I otherwise would have had to take.

My high school had no minority students. The American history we learned was entirely devoid of the African-American experience. I do recall a racist take on the lessons in Reconstruction but mostly the history featured exclusion of any Black voices, including the most prominent.

It is peculiar to be banning this AP course in a context where the norm is still minimal offerings in any African-American history. The assumption that teaching AP African American history is “woke indoctrination” is pure speculation and something made up by DeSantis. It is a right wing talking point and it has no reality.

Likely equally pernicious is the chilling effect on teachers. All Florida teachers must make a calculation about what is allowable to teach. What will cross the line and get them reported? Safety would dictate a sanitized history.

In looking at what Florida is doing now, I see a continuation of the erasure of historical memory. Our national deeper problem is a white blind spot where we refuse to look at the real history. Black experience in America has never been given its due and that is true not only in Florida.

Florida has a particularly rancid history though that can match Mississippi and Alabama history. Business leaders have evoked the image of the sunshine state to cover a virulently racist past. Certainly it is not the whole history but there is a nasty underbelly that is typically overlooked.

In the 1830’s, the Florida territory passed a law that stated that a free black person who left the territory could not return and that any white person could detain any Negro, slave or free, for any reason. In 1832, the Florida territory enacted another law prohibiting “Negroes to congregate for any purpose except to work or attend divine worship”.

Between 1880 and 1930, Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of all former Confederate and border states. 282 black people were lynched in Florida during these years. White supremacy was about keeping black people in their place through extra-legal violence and intimidation.

The largest known mass lynching in Florida happened in Newberry, near Gainesville, in 1916. At least six black people were murdered for alleged hog-stealing. They were dragged from the local jail by an uncontrollable mob and hung from a large oak tree. Hordes came to view the dangling, lynched bodies. No arrests were ever made for the six murders even though the lynchings were viewed by deputy sheriffs and a state senator.

One hundred years ago in 1923, a racist mob destroyed the black Florida town of Rosewood. Possibly readers saw the John Singleton film Rosewood which was inspired by that event. The massacre happened after a white woman claimed she was assaulted by a Rosewood resident. Six were murdered and black residents had to run for their lives, hiding in swamps and woods. No law enforcement agency ever investigated or charged crimes for these events.

I would note two other lynchings. In 1934, a black man, 23 year old Claude Neal, was arrested for allegedly raping and killing a white woman. News media advertised the lynching in advance. A huge crowd gathered for the spectacle. A small group in the mob tortured, mutilated and murdered Neal in secret. They then tied his body to the back of a truck and dragged him to another location where a white crowd estimated at 2000 attacked the corpse with sticks and knives.

The mob then again hung Neal’s body from a tree. The sheriff cut his body down. The next day another mob formed demanding that the body be hanged again so they could view it. When the sheriff refused, the mob rioted, injuring 200 and attempting to drive black people from the county. The Neal lynching was legendary for its brutality. It demonstrated the failure of local, state and federal authorities to curtail the practice of lynching and it propelled federal anti-lynching legislation.

Then there is the story of Willie Howard, a 15 year old who lived in Live Oaks. He was lynched for giving a Christmas card to a white girl. Two white men took Willie and his father to the Suwannee River at gunpoint.They bound Willie’s hands and feet and gave him a choice between getting shot and being drowned in the river. Willie was drowned. No murder charges were ever filed in the case. The case is often compared to Emmett Till’s but it has been lesser known.

Up until the civil rights movement, Florida maintained segregation. Separate water fountains, bathrooms, public accommodations, beaches, and segregated schools and universities were the norm defended by legal authorities. Until the 1950’s blacks were not allowed on juries. In his books, The Beast in Florida and Florida Through Black Eyes, the African-American Professor Marvin Dunn lays it all out and it’s not pretty.

This is a history white supremacists will never acknowledge so they bury it.

As DeSantis prepares for a 2024 presidential run, banning the AP course is just another performative stunt designed to outflank Trump on the far right. It is part of his effort to win over the MAGA base. The damage is in how much his anti-woke law will intimidate teachers.

Should DeSantis win the nomination and get elected in 2024, we can expect a nation-wide rollout of a plan like this. You have to ask: what makes DeSantis an authority to decide what is acceptable for America’s students about black history?

As they should, three Florida high school students are challenging the DeSantis action in court and it will be litigated. The AP stunt is a serious threat to academic freedom.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. jlewandohotmailcom
    January 30, 2023 at 1:32 am

    “Woke” is both rhetorical red meat and a cry of fear, isn’t it? “Woke” history pulls back the curtain on our patriotic fables. The history you write about is too horrible for the MAGA crowd to acknowledge. DeSantis is a thuggish goon, but he knows his audience.

    • January 30, 2023 at 1:38 am

      Honestly Jean, the whole use of woke is a fraud. It is nonsense. I am pretty impatient about it because it is a cover for white supremacy. A while back I wrote a column about “woke”. To me it is like a last refuge of the scoundrel.

  2. Teresa Wyman
    February 6, 2023 at 5:08 pm

    I realize this is somewhat tangential to the actual thesis of this article, but it reminded me of a couple of anecdotes that I wish I remembered more clearly.

    I had a wonderful neighbor, David Curtis, a man who, to me, was a personification of quintessential old time Quaker.  He lived simply, was always kind, and generous, and quietly did whatever needed to be done.  I knew him since early childhood, and, although he was 35 years my senior, we became a good friends once I was an adult.  He was a Conscientious Objector during WWII.  How I wish I had written down the stories he told of being sent to North Dakota in the wintertime, and Florida in the summer, etc.

    In Florida, the group of COs was building privies & teaching sanitation to an African-American community.  I believe that they were also building a school, and I think that it was after the the school finished that the group of COs and the local people were planning some sort of celebration of its completion.  This community was located near a lake.  Before the celebration was to happen, white men, dressed in white, with white hats and masks, started riding horses around on the side of the lake nearer to the African-American area.  The celebration was cancelled.  I believe that Don Booth, another, and perhaps better known, of the COs who settled in Canterbury was involved as well.

    I recall Dave also telling me that, when he was in Florida, he and another young man were hanging out just outside of a rural country store on their day off.  He felt someone tugging at the pocket of his pants, then felt it again, and looked to find an African-American woman.  She gave him some money and asked him please to go into the store and buy a certain medicine, which, of course, he did.

    How I wish I remembered what Dave told me with more clarity, or had been smart enough to write them down at the time. It’s now nearly 20 years since he’s been gone.

    • February 7, 2023 at 2:14 am

      Thanks Teresa, I appreciate you writing. I probably said this to you before but when I was a kid your father’s book The Abandonment of the Jews was in my parents library. It always stuck with me. My parents were probably pretty typical liberal Jews but they were not that intellectually inclined. I remember they also had a book by Irving Howe, World of our Fathers. It was funny that that both books came back to me years later. I am glad you are around Concord. Thanks for writing and stay in touch.

      • Teresa Wyman
        February 7, 2023 at 6:37 pm

        What a lovely note. Thank you. I don’t think you had told me that before, but I figured you had read Dad’s book after reading an article you wrote some time ago referencing a lot of material in it. Abandonment of the Jews, and much, if not most, of Dad’s work, was written in an old chicken house converted to a free standing “study” here in Canterbury.

        You must be somewhat younger than I am to have had Abandonment of the Jews in your home growing up. I was in the sixth grade when Dad finished his PhD. Not too long afterwards his dissertation was printed as the book Paper Walls, America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941 – one might say the prequel to Abandonment. In my kid mind, I thought it would be a best seller (not that I really even understood what that was) and that we would be rich and be able to have all the ice cream we wanted! I was out of college, working as an RN at Concord Hospital, and limiting my ice cream intake more for weight than money concerns when Abandonment came out in 1984, and, to everyone’s surprise, was on the Best Seller list! Life can be so amusing!

        Keep up the good work. I look forward each Monday to reading your excellent articles.

      • February 8, 2023 at 1:23 am

        Thanks Teresa. I do not think I am younger than you. I am probably wrong about the years my parents had your dad’s book. It was probably in the 80’s I noticed it. I never read it back then. Trump and concern about fascism now led me back to your dad’s book. The history of that period was never transmitted to me. The failure to pursue Nazis after WW2 still grabs me. I recently read Philippe Sands book The Ratline which is an eye opener. Anyway thanks for reading my articles and for your kind words.

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