Good Luck Teaching Florida's History under State Legislation Blocking "Uncomfortable Themes"Historians in the News
tags: racism, Florida, African American history, teaching history, Ku Klux Klan, Rosewood Massacre
The Florida state legislature kicked off Black History Month by advancing bills that would allow parents to sue a school if any instruction caused students “discomfort, guilt or anguish.” The bills have been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who last year said he wanted to ban critical race theory and “wokeness” from being taught in Florida schools.
Critical race theory, a legal framework taught mostly in college and law school that argues racism is systemic in this country’s institutions, is not taught in K-12 schools in Florida or any other state. But it’s become a catchphrase for the conservative push to prevent public schools from teaching about systemic racism.
The Florida legislation would also ban lessons that teach that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Critics point out that it’s challenging, to say the least, to provide a remotely sufficient accounting of history in the United States, or anyplace else, without discussing uncomfortable subjects. Florida is no exception. Here are some moments in Florida history that may be difficult to teach without causing discomfort.
The Ocoee Election Day massacre
On Nov. 2, 1920 — the first day women could legally vote in every state across the country — several Black men and women attempted to vote in the Orlando suburb of Ocoee, Fla. In retaliation, a White mob unleashed a wave of violence that left Black homes and churches burned and at least four people dead. Some witnesses put the death toll as high as 60. It is the deadliest instance of Election Day violence in U.S. history.
In 2020, DeSantis signed a bill requiring the history of the Ocoee massacre to be taught in Florida schools. It is unclear what would happen if a White parent filed a complaint about one of these required lessons because it caused discomfort.
It is also unclear whether teachers would be allowed to mention that one of Ocoee’s main roads, Bluford Avenue, is named after a Confederate soldier linked to the theft and sale of Black residents’ land after the massacre; that a 2020 effort to compensate the descendants of victims whose land was stolen failed; or that there are no plans to investigate a possible mass grave where witnesses reported seeing Black bodies dumped.