Earlier this year, Florida sparked national controversy when it revised its public educational standards to include content that whitewashed the history of slavery. These changes to the state’s public school curriculum were one of many seemingly anti-Black policy changes in the Sunshine State over the past several years. Now, one Democratic state senator is trying to ban Florida from painting a positive image of slavery.
State Sen. Shevrin Jones, who represents Miami Gardens, has submitted a bill to regulate the way educators teach the history of slavery in Florida. Specifically, SB 344 stipulates that “state academic standards may not indicate or imply that an enslaved person benefited from slavery or the enslavement experience in any way.” The language of this bill is a clear response to new standards published by the Florida State Board of Education earlier this year, which included language on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Even though many people, including several Black Republicans, objected to the new policy for making slavery sound beneficial for Black people, leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have continued to defend the new standards. In July, Jones told MSNBC reporter Katy Tur that “the Florida Department of Education has set our state back years with the passage of these new education guidelines that totally whitewash African American history.” Now, his proposed legislation would require that public schools “teach efficiently and faithfully” the history of Black Americans, “including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society.” If passed, this new legislation would go into effect in July 2024.
The new bill represents one of several ways legislators like Jones have opposed the hard-right agenda of Florida Republicans in recent years. When the state rejected an AP African American history course, Jones theorized that Florida’s example could become a model for other Republican-controlled states and warned that “we have the potential of raising an entire generation of Black children who will not be able to see themselves represented in their own state or in education.” Jones has also sought to get rid of Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, which George Zimmerman infamously cited after he killed Trayvon Martin.
As for Jones’ future, the state senator who has spent so much time pushing back against DeSantis’ far-right agenda could replace the Florida governor. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Nov. 3 that Jones may be considering running for governor of Florida in 2026. Jones told the paper, “It’s time for us to do something different,” indicating that he was “looking at all options. And I will go as far as the people will take me.” If he won, Jones would be the first Black openly gay governor in U.S. history. For now, though, he is working to impact how Florida educators teach Black history.