DeSantis says Harris is spreading ‘phony narratives’ on Florida Black history curriculum

By: - July 27, 2023 4:02 pm

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answered questions from reporters in front of the Never Back Down PAC bus in Chariton on July 27, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

CHARITON — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday in Iowa that Vice President Kamala Harris is spreading “phony narratives” about the Black history curriculum in Florida.

DeSantis, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president, spoke to reporters about the conflict after a campaign event in Iowa.

Earlier in July, the vice president said Florida’s new history curriculum standards will mean students are “to be told that enslaved people benefited from slavery.” Harris said Republican politicians are trying to divide the country and push “revisionist” history on American children.

“What they are doing is they are creating these unnecessary debates,” Harris said in Florida. “This is unnecessary to debate whether enslaved people benefited from slavery.  Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to debate that?”

DeSantis disagreed with Harris’ characterization. He told reporters the country has “seen this Kamala Harris lie exposed about Florida’s high school curriculums.”

Harris and others, including U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Florida Republican, specifically took issue with language in the new standards that calls for instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

DeSantis said the provision is meant to show that some enslaved people developed skills “in spite of slavery, not because of slavery.” He said this perspective is also included in the standards of the Advanced Placement African American studies course that Harris supported.

In January, DeSantis said the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP course because it was pushing an “agenda.” As of April, the College Board had announced plans to remove several topics from the course, including queer studies, Black Lives Matter and slavery reparations.

“Now it comes out that she had endorsed in AP African American curriculum, which had a lot of good things in it, we didn’t like some of the Marxism and the gender ideology they tried to do (with) it, but that same curriculum as the same point in there,” DeSantis said. “So they already endorsed and so these are things that are obviously phony narratives.”

The Florida Republican did not directly answer questions from a reporter who asked if there were beneficial aspects to slavery. He said the state’s outlined standards are “very clear about the injustices of slavery in vivid detail.”

DeSantis took media questions after speaking to more than 50 people Thursday in Chariton. It was his first stop on a bus tour with the Never Back Down super PAC, with plans to visit Osceola and Oskaloosa before attending the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines Friday. Harris will also be in Iowa Friday, talking about reproductive health care access in Des Moines.

The tour marks a shift from campaign-hosted events to sponsorship by the super PAC. The change came as campaign finance filings showed DeSantis’ campaign spent nearly $8 million in the first six weeks of his campaign. Those reports were followed by polling from sources like Fox Business that showed DeSantis was significantly lagging behind former President Donald Trump in Iowa and other states.

Angela Rich, a Chariton resident, said she was impressed by what DeSantis has done in Florida. She said she didn’t believe polls that showed DeSantis’ momentum slowing accurately reflected Iowans’ views, and said there is still plenty of time for other candidates to catch up to Trump.

“ I don’t know that they’re very accurate,” Rich said. “And a lot of things change after Iowa, so these nationwide polls, I don’t know that they should be trusted. A lot can still happen.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.