Heritage Foundation President Blasts False Claims About Florida’s African American History Curriculum
Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation, speaks during the Heritage Foundation's Leadership Summit in National Harbor, Maryland, US, on Friday, April 21, 2023. DeSantis will visit Japan next week as he tests the international waters ahead of a possible decision to seek the Republican nomination for US president.
Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts slammed false claims that are being made about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and about the state’s African American history curriculum, saying that the claims have nothing to do with history and are solely about trying to “kneecap” DeSantis.

“The outcry over Florida’s African American History standards is absurd,” Roberts, who has a PhD in American history, said in a statement. “That happens to be my academic field as a historian; I use to write extensively—including curriculum standards—on the topic. So I took some time to review Florida’s. The bottom line: they are excellent.”

The false claims originated late last week when Vice President Kamala Harris took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, to attack the new curriculum, falsely claiming that “in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery.”

Harris seized on one sentence from the 216-page curriculum that clarified how freed slaves used skills they learned and developed during slavery to help themselves later in their lives: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The College Board included a similar item in its course framework for AP African American Studies for 2023-2024. The curriculum identifies as “essential knowledge”: “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, African Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.”

The College Board’s AP college prep classes are available in thousands of schools across the U.S.

“In my experience as a historian of African American history, Florida’s standards actually are a model for other states,” Roberts said. “They are comprehensive in topics covered, do not shy away from difficult topics, and—as history should—use examples of heroic people who fought oppression.”


Roberts then highlighted that Florida’s standards state: “Instructional materials shall include the vital contributions of African Americans to build & strengthen American society and celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances.”

“The controversial section—’Instruction includes how slaves developed skills, which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit’—is wholly accurate,” Roberts said. “Some slaves, in some circumstances, were able to earn money that some even used to purchase their freedom.”

“In no way does mentioning that ‘personal benefit’ for some slaves, in some instances, amount to defending slavery or making slavery sound better–rather, it shows the amazing, heroic perseverance of enslaved people amid an evil system,” he said. “The author of the standards, African American historian Dr. William B. Allen–former chairman of the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights–said as much in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, who himself acknowledged that Allen was ‘correct.'”

“Dr. Allen, in response to criticism about the ‘personal benefit’ phrase: ‘When I look at that language, I see what Booker T. Washington meant when he entitled his autobiography ‘Up From Slavery’ rather than ‘Down In Slavery,'” Roberts added. “Dr. Allen continued: ‘I see what Douglass meant when he described his slave mistress teaching him to read only at the beginning because his owner put a stop to it. But that small glimmer of light was enough to inspire him to turn it into a burning flame of illumination…'”

Roberts then addressed what he believes is driving the false claims about Florida’s African American History Curriculum.

“This controversy about FL’s history standards has nothing to do with history, which is accurately & beautifully captured,” Roberts added. “Rather, it’s all about politics and trying to knee-cap one of conservatism’s leaders. God bless @GovRonDeSantis for his courage amid this ridiculous fire.”

Tim Pearce contributed to this report.

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