Social Studies Q&A

Amid Public School Restrictions, ‘Freedom Schools’ in Florida Will Teach Black History

By Ileana Najarro — June 05, 2023 5 min read
Students, activists and educators gather to listen to Shavon Arline-Bradley, the president and CEO of the National Council of Negro Women speak during the Freedom to Learn rally. Demonstrators gathered in front of the College Board Headquarters in Washington D.C. to protest the College Board’s decision to alter their African American Studies curriculum, as well as to protest book bans and other divisive actions being taken in regard to education, during the Freedom to Learn rally on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
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An EdWeek Research Center survey this year found that a slim majority of educators said they spend some or a lot of time teaching Black history.

That’s in the wake of multiple states enacting legislation that limits how teachers can discuss topics of race and racism in K-12 schools, and at a time when few states mandate Black history instruction.

It is also happening while an effort by the nonprofit College Board to launch a new AP African American Studies course was met with pushback from Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis banning the course and scholars questioning what they called a watered-down version of it. The nonprofit is now making additional edits to the course framework in time for a second pilot year starting this fall.

In the midst of all this, chapters of the Florida coalition of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History are stepping in to teach Black history to high school students.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., the Freedom School is a summer program aimed at high school students to be held at the local Carter G. Woodson museum. Classes are free and take place once a week through the start of August with a limit of about 25 students for the pilot this year, said Jacqueline Hubbard, president of the local ASALH chapter. It is one of at least two Florida chapters piloting such a program this year, the namesake of which harkens back to Freedom Schools of the 1960s.

The curriculum for the course was put together by members of the local ASALH chapter.

The enrichment program, with no affiliation to public schools, offers a survey into diverse African and African American histories unbound by Florida’s law restricting instruction on race.

The national nonprofit—which was founded in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, an author, and historian regarded as the father of Black History—will also host its annual conference in Florida this year “to make a point: that we will follow our mission to promote the study of African American life and history and to demonstrate that we will not be intimidated by the policies of Governor DeSantis and the Florida legislature,” the organization said in a statement.

Hubbard spoke with Education Week about the new program, and about the future of Black history instruction in the state and elsewhere.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired the new summer Freedom School?

We’ve been talking about the need for exploring African and African American history for a long time. It’s not just about African American history. A lot of children don’t know that the continent of Africa has many countries, many cultures, and many languages, and that African Americans come from different parts … of Africa. We think kids need to learn about Africa, especially the ancient African kingdoms—which were amazing—African religions, and African art and culture. And so we developed a curriculum to teach this information.

When the Freedom Schools in the 1960s started, they confronted a group of youth who really didn’t have any education to speak of. I mean, we’re talking just basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. So I harken back to that Freedom School, as we do with ours, as a gift that was given to the community, to share our knowledge, because everybody involved in this school is pretty knowledgeable about African and American history.

Jacqueline Hubbard

What are some of the topics the program will explore?

The course will survey African American histories from their origins in Africa to the present. The class will discuss ancestral Africa, the enslavement of African people in the Americas, Emancipation, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the multiple struggles of African Americans in the United States to resist white supremacy, and seek liberation and equality.

This course assumes that Black Americans have never been a single entity. There’s always been diversity among Black people in Africa and in the United States. Although African Americans share a common identity, born out of a subordinate legal status in America, imposed by a white supremacist society, African Americans have different histories based on differences in education, class, religion, gender, and region. This course will present these varieties of African American histories.

The course also explores how Black people have contributed to shaping all aspects of life in the United States. And we’re talking economic, political, artistic, judicial, legal, scientific, and technological. The course will show how Black Americans have influenced the practice of democracy in the United States, and how the strength and weakness of democracy can be calculated by the nation’s treatment of African Americans and other marginalized groups. For instance, the constant fight for the right to vote. We have been on this continent, at least since 1619, and possibly earlier than that, and yet the right to vote has been an issue all of these years, and equality of life.

Was the timing of these Freedom Schools tied at all to efforts across the country to limit how to teach about race?

We’re not teaching in a public school, we’re volunteering to share our knowledge for free. And we’re not involved with the public schools in Florida. Our idea is to teach African and African American history.

And I’m excited about it. I really don’t have anything to do with whatever the politics are. We’ve been talking about this for months.

What are your hopes for the future of Black History education both locally and nationally?

Everything in America is connected to African Americans. There’s no way you can study American history, and pull African Americans out of that history. At some point, people are just going to realize it just doesn’t make any sense. And the truth is the truth, and you cannot make up history. Things are documented. If you wanted to make up a history of America and exclude African Americans, it’s pretty impossible.

That’s like, having a history of America and trying to exclude Native Americans. It’s impossible, realistically, to do so. They were here first and you can’t pretend that they were ... treated very well. And neither were African Americans. You can’t hide that. So eventually, people will come to their senses, I think, and realize that we want to train our children to be thinkers.

If we’re going to have a very educated populace, there’s certain things in our history we simply have to face. That may be uncomfortable to some and maybe to all. But nonetheless, it’s our history. And it seems to me that throughout history, people and countries have tried to hide their involvement in certain atrocities. And eventually, the truth comes out, either fully or partially. And it will come out here.

Coverage of afterschool learning opportunities is supported in part by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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