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Kamala Harris accuses Florida officials of trying to 'replace history with lies' through new curriculum

Florida's recently approved history standards teach students that some Black people benefited from slavery because it provided them with useful skills.
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Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday rebuked the Florida Board of Education’s new standards for how Black history will be taught in schools, calling it an effort by extremist leaders to spread propaganda.

Speaking in Jacksonville, Harris said the recently approved curriculum, which suggests some slaves reaped benefits from the skills they acquired during forced labor, was based on a policy intent on misleading children.

"They want to replace history with lies," Harris said. "These extremist, so-called leaders should model what we know to be the correct and right approach if we really are invested in the well being of our children. Instead, they dare to push propaganda to our children. This is the United States of America. We're not supposed to do that."

The Florida Board of Education approved new standards Wednesday in a 216-page document detailing how public schools should approach Black history, including teaching students that some enslaved people acquired useful skills that could be used for their “personal benefit.”

"How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?" Harris said.

Recounting her own schooling, the vice president said she was the product of a public school system where teachers provided the "full expanse of information," and encouraged students to "then reach their own conclusions and exercise critical thought in a way that was directly intended to nurture their leadership."

"It is because of that approach that I stand before you as vice president of the United States," she said.

Harris personally made the decision to take a last-minute trip to Jacksonville on Friday in response to the Florida Board of Education approving new standards for teaching Black history, a White House official said, confirming a detail that was first reported by Politico.

On Thursday morning, upon boarding Air Force 2 to travel to Indianapolis for an event, Harris told staffers she wanted to go to Florida the next day “and asked her team to look into what a trip would look like,” according to the official. Her staff then started putting the trip together on the flight back to DC from Indianapolis.

The White House official said “traveling to Jacksonville was about calling out what is happening in clear terms — in Florida and across the country; underscoring that this was not just about Black history, but about preserving American history; about showing up and fighting back; and, reminding parents, teachers, students, and the people of Florida that they are not fighting alone."

The speaking program for Friday’s event was intended to feature “remarks from faith leaders, elected officials, parents, and teachers, all of different races and backgrounds who were concerned with the new stands for how Black history would be taught in Florida," the official added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who earlier this year blocked an advanced placement African American studies course from being taught to high schoolers in his state, blasted Harris' visit in a statement on Twitter.

"Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida’s educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children," the GOP presidential candidate tweeted. "Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies."

Speaking with reporters later Friday, DeSantis appeared to try and distance himself from the curriculum changes while also defending the new standards.

Asked about the Board of Education's wording in its guidance for teaching about slavery, DeSantis said, "I didn't do it and I wasn't involved in it."

"But I think — I think what they’re doing is, I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life," he continued, referring to enslaved people. "These were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was done politically."

William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, who are members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, defended the standards in a statement earlier this week, calling them “rigorous and comprehensive,” and said the update that has drawn intense criticism showed “that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted.”

Harris on Friday urged Americans to face rather than forget history.

“Our history as a nation is born out of tragedy and triumph. That’s who we are. Part of that is what gives us our grit,” she said.

“So let’s reject the notion that we would deny all of this in terms of our history. Let us not be seduced into believing that somehow we will be better if we forget it. We will be better if we remember.”

Before delivering her remarks, Harris said she met with local leaders, including Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, two Democrats from the state Legislature, civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.

In May, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the Florida, calling the state “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

The group also rebuked the updated Black history curriculum, emphasizing the importance of students learning “that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history.”