Gov. Ron DeSantis appears intent on erasing African American history in the United States. He is banning books about Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente, as well as Richard Wright’s famous “Native Son,” a book read in most high school and college literature classes.
These are just to name a few. He has not gone as far as demanding book burnings, as Hitler did, but I imagine that isn’t far behind. It seems like ignorant people always turn to burning books as a go-to to prevent enlightenment.
While Advanced Placement studies are taught on German language and culture, Japanese language and culture, Chinese language and culture, Italian language and culture, Latin, Spanish literature, language and culture, European history, French language and culture, and world history, DeSantis is rebelling against an AP curriculum on African American studies. So it’s OK, I guess, to teach the cultures of every other people, except the people that did the most to build this country from its inception.
The first English settlement started at Jamestown, Va., in 1607. The first African slaves were brought to Fort Comfort, Va., in August 1619, just 12 years later. We were here long before Italians, Germans, Japanese, Irish, Polish and every other immigrant group except a few English settlers and Indigenous people. Approximately 600,000 slaves were delivered to the United States.
Let’s be blunt – we built this country. We did every dirty job that our white slave masters and bosses did not want to do. We grew cotton, tobacco, peanuts and every crop grown in this country. We built railroads, skyscrapers, bridges, roads, houses and the automobile. We raised our white masters and bosses’ children, and we cleaned their homes and cooked their meals. After everything we contributed, it seems impossible to erase our history, but DeSantis is intent on doing it.
One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the main character, played by Jimmy Stewart, is shown what life would be like if he had never existed. In the case of the U.S., what would this country be like if Africans were never brought here on slave ships?
African Americans invented the traffic light (Garrett Morgan), carbon light bulb filament (Lewis Latimer), peanut butter and alternate crops to cotton (George Washington Carver), ironing board (Sarah Boone), home security system (Mary Van Brittan Brown), refrigerated truck (Frederick McKinley Jones), elevator (Alexander Miles), electric microphone (James West), and color IBM PC monitor and gigahertz chip (Mark Dean).
Our physician and scientists were pioneers in brain surgery (Keith Black) and cataract surgery (Patricia Bath), in the development of the pacemaker (Otis Boykin) and, most recently, a Black women scientist (Kizzmekia Corbett) led the breakthrough for the COVID-19 vaccine.
If you erase African Americans, you erase a lot of inventions and scientific breakthroughs.
What would present-day life in the U.S. look like if we never existed and America had had to fight all its wars without us? Crispus Atticus was the first American to die in the Revolutionary War on March 5, 1770. In the early wars of this country, Blacks were not considered fit to be soldiers, pilots or officers, yet we nevertheless participated in every major war despite acute racism.
African Americans made up approximately 10-15% of the Continental Army and 10% of the Union Army by the end of the Civil War. About 20,000 African Americans fought in World War I, although 700,000 registered to fight. They fought with the French Army and were nicknamed “Hell Fighters” by the Germans. Funny how while our own government didn’t respect Black soldiers, our enemy surely did. In World War II, 10% of the U.S. Army was Black, and by the time of the Vietnam War we rose to 31% of the fighting forces, despite being only 12% of the population. I’m not sure that finally being recognized as good soldiers was good for our community, but we served and died for this country.
During our history in this country, we have suffered at the hands of our white slave masters, bosses and legislatures. DeSantis does not want schoolchildren to learn the real history of this country because of some alleged trauma and guilt this may cause non-Black students. Yet, children of German, Italian and Japanese extraction can learn about the wars and deaths their home countries and ancestors caused. White Americans can learn about the slaughter of Indigenous people in the great invasion of North America, but this apparently doesn’t cause trauma to white Americans.
I am not sure how you can erase 404 years of Black participation in every aspect of this country. I am a history nerd, and the best history is a truthful and objective recounting of events. DeSantis wants to hide slavery, racism, segregation and the brutal treatment of African Americans that went on for hundreds of years and continues to this day. Yes, the brutality continues with the murder of Black men, women and children by police or vigilantes like George Zimmerman, who gunned down an unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
How do you celebrate sports greats like Aaron, Clemente, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Serena and Venus Williams, and civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others if you do not also address the racism and hatred they overcame?
We are in dangerous times, and our governor is the most dangerous man in America. He is following the Nazi handbook and trying to erase us just like Hitler tried to erase the Jews. If we didn’t learn from that experience, I fear we will face our own modern form of government oppression that will rival the agony our ancestors endured.
The best way to not repeat the sins of the past is to study real, objective history and try to learn from it. We must never forget American history, the whole history, and it must include the oppression of Black men and women since 1619.
Reginald J. Clyne is a Miami trial lawyer who has practiced in some of the largest law firms in the United States. Clyne has been in practice since 1987 and tries cases in both state and federal court. He has lived in Africa, Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua.