Controversial Florida African American history standards stirring intra-Republican feud

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign and administration aren’t backing down in their defense of Florida’s new African-American history standards, lashing out even at some prominent Republican critics as he vies for the party’s presidential nomination.

On Wednesday and into Thursday, staffers targeted Florida GOP Congressman Byron Donalds, a leading Black supporter of President Donald Trump, on social media for disagreeing with the most controversial part in the state’s new curriculum.

“The new African-American standards in FL are good, robust, & accurate,” Donalds tweeted. “That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this.”

Manny Diaz, the state’s education commissioner, tweeted in response that “the federal government won’t dictate Florida’s education standards.”

“This new curriculum is based on truth. We will not back down from teaching our nation’s true history at the behest of a woke @WhiteHouse, nor at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman,” he wrote.

U.S. Congressman Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks to local media members after participating in a Hurricane Ian marine debris removal tour alongside representatives from AshBritt in St. James City Tuesday, May 2, 2023. Although large quantities of debris have already been removed since Hurricane Ian devastated the area last year, recovery efforts and clean-up continues.

Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for the governor’s office, also jumped in.

“Supposed conservatives in the federal government are pushing the same false narrative that originated from the @WhiteHouse. Maybe the congressman shouldn’t swing for the liberal media fences like @VP,” a reference to a hasty vice presidential visit to Jacksonville last week in which Kamala Harris blasted the curriculum as one that “replaces history with lies.”

As the pushback grew, Donalds replied that “Anyone who can’t accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points.”

“What’s crazy to me is I expressed support for the vast majority of the new African American history standards and happened to oppose one sentence that seemed to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday evening. “Just another reason why l’m proud to have endorsed President Donald J. Trump!”

The new standards set for Florida’s African American history K-12 classes – specifically a line in the section for grades 6-8 which says “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit” – has sparked criticism from beyond just Democrats, who say the instruction is misleading and harmful.

“This stance undermines the historical reality of slavery and the unimaginable hardships endured by millions of enslaved individuals,” the Black Conservative Federation said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Attributing their acquired skills as a benefit is an oversimplification and can obscure the true nature of their experiences,” the statement reads.

Point by point:‘Factual?’ ‘Lies?’ What to know about Florida schools’ new Black history standards

More:Florida board OKs Black history standards, rejects concerns about omitting ‘key’ facts

The Black Conservative Federation, a national organization that calls itself the “premier hub for Black conservatives in America,” warned DeSantis that the curriculum will alienate potential voters.

“In order to grow the party, the GOP must demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity, empathy, and an accurate understanding of our shared history,” the statement reads.

Redfern responded directly to Black Conservative Federation President Diante Johnson on X, saying, “Supposed conservatives in DC want Florida to commit to the principles of DEI. That’s not happening. Nor are we going to tell some politically easy version of history at the behest of false White House talking points.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, continues to defend the curriculum. In a combative exchange with a reporter on Thursday who asked if there were “beneficial aspects to slavery,” DeSantis said the Florida curriculum makes it “very clear the injustices of slavery in vivid detail.” His wife, Casey DeSantis, tweeted the exchange, saying “The Harris-Biden Administration and corporate media continue to lie about Florida’s education standards.”

Ana Goñi-Lessan is the State Watchdog Reporter for USA TODAY- Florida and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan. 

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