LOWRY/The Florida slavery smear

LOWRY/The Florida slavery smear


There have been so many poisonous and stupid lies about Florida since 2020, it’s almost hard to keep track, but the latest may be the most outrageous. 

As you might have heard thanks to the vice president of the United States, Florida allegedly wants to teach its students that slavery benefited slaves.

In reality, the Florida curriculum on slavery is extensive and includes pretty much everything you’d want a child to know about this enormity. The occasion for the Kamala Harris smear is one line that says, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

This is not the first thing, or even the 19th, that you’d want students to learn about slavery, but it is also indisputably true. 

No one is saying the enslaved “benefited” from slavery. 

It’s not an endorsement of slavery to point out that slaves looked for every crack in the system to try to improve themselves and gain some autonomy — rather, it’s an endorsement of the initiative and resilience of an oppressed people operating in the worst of circumstances. 

We are supposed to believe that enslaved African Americans strained against their awful condition in every way — learning to read, worshipping on their own, defying their masters when they could, creating an elaborate system of escape, but they never, ever learned a skill to their own benefit.

This is, of course, nonsense. The Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum that Florida has rejected contains almost exactly the same language about skills as the state’s curriculum—without causing a firestorm of criticism. 

Some of the most honored African American figures in our history took advantage of whatever ability they had, while enslaved, to improve themselves and learn. In Baltimore, Frederick Douglass famously became a ship caulker and brought in $6 to $9 a week, rightly resenting “the right of the robber” exercised by his owner, who took his earnings. 

In his extraordinary “African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Ideals,” David Hackett Fischer brings to light other lesser-known examples. He notes the example of one Captain David Stodder, the leading shipbuilder in Baltimore in the late 18th century. As of 1790, about two dozen of his workers were slaves, and he freed them in his will. “Among these slaves,” Fischer writes, “were some of his most highly skilled workers.”  

Or consider George R. Roberts, who was probably born a slave in southern Maryland. He became an experienced seaman and eventually “came home to Baltimore, bought a small house in the happy neighborhood that is still called Canton, and became prominent in the civic life of the city.” 

Or Robert Lemmons, born a slave in Texas. He learned from a rancher who employed him and became extremely adept at handling mustangs. Freed after the Civil War, according to Fischer, he “saved his profits, invested in land, built a holding of 1,200 acres, became a successful rancher, rented some of his land, added another business, and became a local money lender.”

Was slavery good for these men? Absolutely not. The point is what they accomplished despite slavery, not because of it. 

Two can play the Kamala Harris game, by the way. 

In her famous 1619 Project essay, The New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones writes that: “Black people were not chattel. And so the process of seasoning, instead of erasing identity, served an opposite purpose: In the void, we forged a new culture all our own.”

There she goes — saying slavery served some good, that it was “seasoning.”

Imagine if the Florida curriculum said that slavery gave us African American hair styles? There’d be outrage, but Hannah-Jones says it: “Today’s avant-garde nature of black hairstyles and fashion displays a vibrant reflection of enslaved people’s determination to feel fully human through self-expression.”

The left wouldn’t have to deny the historical record or tie itself into knots if it weren’t so determined to lie about DeSantis, but that imperative overwhelms everything else.

Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, ­a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.


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