A Florida Miseducation

I’m a product of Florida schools, the kind of educational system Ron DeSantis is trying to resurrect.

I attended white schools. Black students had their own schools. Separate but equal, supposedly. My teachers were white. Not until, as a seventeen-year-old, I had a job as a waitress, did I ever engage in a conversation with anyone who wasn’t white. When business slowed, Norman, the Black cook, had the patience to take my immature inquisitiveness seriously. 

I studied white history. At Robert E. Lee Junior High, I learned that the Civil War was not fought over slavery but over whether a state could leave the Union. The only Black historical figure I recall learning about was George Washington Carver. Something to do with peanuts, which didn’t much impress me. 

I studied white male history. Sure, there were Jane Addams, Clara Barton, and Betsy Ross, all doing what females were supposed to do: sew and take care of others. Meanwhile, White Men of Power waged war, invented things, and benignly governed.

I’ve since expanded my knowledge of history, some of it related to Florida. Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove is the compelling true story of a 1949 tragedy. The Lake County, Florida, sheriff and the KKK viciously hunted down four young Black men falsely accused of raping a nineteen-year-old white girl. Two of the men were murdered, two sentenced to life in prison. King writes, “From 1882 to 1930, Florida recorded more lynchings of black people (266) than any other state, and from 1900 to 1930, a per capita lynching rate twice that of Mississippi, Georgia, or Louisiana.”

In Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, Paul Ortiz writes of the efforts of Black Floridians to build lives and community following the Civil War. When Black men tried to vote in the 1920 election, white supremists and the KKK attacked them, killing twenty.

I and many of my generation were taught a skewed history of America. Yes, in truth, there were White Men of Power, but most of us trace our roots to racial and ethnic groups that suffered and persisted, suffered and persisted, suffered and persisted. To deny their role in the shaping of our country is to distort American history. 

Perhaps I read history because the word is built around story. Stories broaden my perspective. They increase my capacity for empathy by revealing others’ struggles and heroism.

Why would we deny our children that gift?

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