Florida's history standards claim slavery included 'benefit' to Black Americans

They say 'slaves developed skills' they could use for their 'personal benefit'

ByBen Gittleson, Nakylah Carter, and Fritz Farrow ABCNews logo
Saturday, July 22, 2023
Harris blasts FL history standards claiming slavery included 'benefit' to Black people
Vice President Kamala Harris slammed Florida history standards claiming slavery included a "benefit" to Black Americans.

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Florida Friday to forcefully rebuke new, controversial Black history standards approved unanimously this week by the state's board of education, ABC News reported.

Afterward, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis called her remarks "outrageous" and defended the board -- even as he appeared to try to distance himself from the specifics of the controversy.

"These extremist, so-called leaders should model what we know to be the correct and right approach if we are invested in the well-being of our children," Harris said in a fiery speech in Jacksonville, criticizing those behind the new standards, but not mentioning DeSantis by name.

"Instead they dare to push propaganda to our children. This is the United States of America. We're not supposed to do that," Harris said.

Among the changes approved Wednesday was a section of "benchmark clarifications," and among those was one that states "instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

"How is it that anyone could suggest that amidst these atrocities [of slavery], there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?" Harris said.

Acts of violence "against and by" African Americans are also mentioned in lesson plans included in the new changes.

These changes come after the Florida legislature passed DeSantis' "Stop-WOKE" law, described as an act that creates protection for students and workers, allowing them to not feel "discrimination based on race, color, sex or national origin."

"When we send our children to school as parents, we want to know that they're being taught the truth. It is a reasonable expectation," Harris said. "It is a reasonable expectation that our children will not be misled. And that's what's so outrageous about what is happening right now."

The vice president expressed worry Friday that the efforts to change Black history curriculums will spread across the country.

"When I think about what is happening here in Florida, I am deeply concerned," Harris said. "Because, let's be clear, I do believe this is not only about the state of Florida. There is a national agenda afoot."

During a speech Thursday in Indianapolis, Harris called the policy an "insult" to Black Americans.

"Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery," Harris told attendees of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority's national convention. "They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it."

The changes have been widely criticized by civil rights leaders and educators.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson called the move "an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected."

The state's largest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, called the guidelines "a step backward" and accused DeSantis, who has made cultural issues a centerpiece of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, of "pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another."

"How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don't have a full, honest picture of where we've come from?" Andrew Spar, the union's president, said in a statement. "Florida's students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal our nation's divisions rather than deepen them."

At a news conference Friday night in Salt Lake City, Utah, DeSantis called Harris's remarks "absolutely ridiculous, totally outrageous."

"These are the most robust standards in African American history, probably anywhere in the country. Anyone who reads that will see that it's very thorough, very factual, and for them to try to demagogue it -- look, that may have worked in the past. Nobody is buying their nonsense anymore ..."

But when presented with the language of one of the benchmarks in question -- one calling for instruction on how "slaves developed skills that, in some instances, could be used for their personal benefit" -- DeSantis seemed to distance himself even as he defended the work of the board that put the benchmarks together.

"Well, you should talk to them about it. I mean, I didn't do it. I wasn't involved in it," he said. "But I think what they're doing is, I think that they're probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life. But the reality is, all of that is rooted in whatever is factual," adding, "these were scholars that put that together. It was not anything that was done politically."

ABC News' Will McDuffie and Hannah Demissie contributed to this report.