If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis knew history, he’d realize that his crusade against teaching Black history in schools won’t work. However, since he is ignorant of it, he’ll continue working to fight against Black humanity. Failure to learn Black history has DeSantis unaware of the reality that where there is oppression, there is resistance.
And where white supremacy abounds, Black resistance abounds much more.
Historian Dr. Herbert Aptheker, in his research, speaks of eight forms of Black resistance specific to the antebellum period. These are (1) Purchasing freedom (2) Strikes (3) Sabotage (4) Suicide and self-mutilation (5) Flight (running away) (6) Enlisting in the armed forces (7) Anti-enslavement agitation in speaking and writing and (8) Revolts or insurrection.
If I could add a ninth, I would add learning to read and write. Numerous anti-literacy laws existed throughout the enslaving states – specifically South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and Alabama – between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free people of color to read or write.
An example is the 1829 Anti-Literacy Act in Georgia:
“And be it further enacted, That if any slave, negro, or free person of colour, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, negro, or free person of colour, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of colour or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping at the discretion of the court; and if a white person so offending, he, she, or they shall be punished with fine, not exceeding five hundred dollars, and imprisonment in the common jail at the discretion of the court before whom said offender is tried.“
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Why such laws?
Because white settler enslavers and enablers alike were concerned with Black resistance in the form of insurrection. How is literacy tied to insurrection? Literacy allows for the accumulation of knowledge and with knowledge of the hypocrisy and immorality of enslavement comes resistance against it through organizing among enslaved Africans. Those who can read and write were often at the lead of the organizing and planning.
Therefore, anti-literacy laws were put in place to prevent insurrection whenever possible. But insurrections didn’t cease and enslaved Africans continued to learn the language of their captors because their lives depended on it. According to Aptheker, there are at least 250 insurrections of enslaved Africans in American history.
So, while Ron DeSantis is repeating history—enacting laws to prevent insurrection (or to maintain order—the status quo) he has failed to learn that these laws cannot and will not prevent African people from liberating themselves through learning their identity.
His intention is to deliberately whitewash, if not outright eliminate the teaching of Black history throughout Florida. The purpose is to prevent any opportunity for insurrection in the form of protests, boycotts, or simply voting him and his ilk out of political office. There’s his Anti-Woke Law, his anti-protest/riot law (currently blocked), his installing a “voter-fraud” police force, his limiting ex-felons’ right to vote (Black people are disproportionately imprisoned in Florida and are a sizable population of ex-felons), and his threat of felony charges for educators sharing “improper content.”
DeSantis is engaged in white resistance to Black resistance … in other words, he’s engaged in oppressive tactics. But wherever there is oppression, there is resistance.
Had DeSantis known history, he would know that Black folk been resisting since the advent of white settler colonialism … and I used the vernacular here intently. Had he known history, he would know that his efforts are ultimately in vain … because Black people will continue to resist in the face of oppression.
I guess we’ll have to teach him.
Photos: Students at Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 Center in Miami, wave at a funeral motorcade for late former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, Dec. 7, 2021. The grandchild of a slave and a sharecropper’s daughter, Meek was one of the first Black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction. (AP/Wilfredo Lee) / Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks of new law enforcement legislation, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. (AP/Marta Lavandier)
Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in New Jersey. His Urban Education Mixtape blog supports urban educators and parents of children attending urban schools. He is the author of Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids (Bloom Books for Young Readers) to be released on March 7. Follow him on Twitter @RealRannMiller.