A prominent civil rights figure who helped craft Florida’s African American history standards has blasted Vice President Kamala Harris’ assessment of the curriculum as “categorically false.”
Dr. William Allen, former chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, says Harris was way off when he claimed in a speech last week that the standards suggested slavery was beneficial to black Americans.
“The only criticism I’ve encountered so far [on the new curriculum] is a single one that was articulated by the vice president, and which was an error,” Allen, who is black, told ABC News in footage touted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary.
“As I stated in my response to the vice president, it was categorically false. It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans,” said Adams, who was on the working group that helped devise the curriculum.
The Florida Department of Education unveiled its revised instruction standards for African American studies last week.
The state had previously rejected a pilot Advanced Placement course on African American studies because of concerns from the DeSantis administration about discussions of communism and authors who wrote about so-called critical race theory, among other gripes.
Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup was tasked with trying to help rectify those concerns.
Shortly after the new standards were revealed and approved by the Florida Board of Education, a major state teachers union railed against them.
The Florida Education Association issued a lengthy statement alleging that the “new standards require middle school students to be taught that the experience of slavery was beneficial to African Americans because it helped them acquire skills.”
This is a reference to a benchmark clarification in the new standards that says “instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Williams told ABC, “It is the case that Africans prove resourceful, resilient and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslaved.”
He and another member of the working group, Dr. Frances Rice, added in a joint statement: “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”
As part of the outrage over the new standards, Harris, the nation’s first black vice president, traveled to Florida toward the end of the week and forcefully rebuked the changes, which were unanimously approved by the board.
“They want to replace history with lies,” said Harris — whose boss, President Biden, is running for re-election, while DeSantis hopes to face off against the Democratic candidate as the Republican nominee.
“In the state of Florida, they decided middle school students would be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” the veep claimed.
DeSantis has underscored that he was not directly involved with the formation of the new curriculum.
But he has built a political brand on wading into the culture wars and mounting a crusade against “wokeness.”
He has widely polled as the second-place candidate in the 2024 presidential field, with Donald Trump easily leading the pack.