Vice President Kamala Harris is making a last-minute trip to Florida on Friday to tackle changes to the state’s education standards that critics say play down the horror of slavery.
It’s the latest example of how Harris has been the White House point person for addressing cultural issues such as race, schooling and abortion that are championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate.
The Florida Board of Education voted Wednesday to approve a revised Black history curriculum that matches legislation that DeSantis said is necessary to prevent liberal indoctrination.
The new curriculum includes instruction on how slaves benefited from skills that they learned. It also focuses more in early grades on achievements of African Americans rather than the injustices they faced through slavery and segregation.
Harris already addressed the decision on Thursday in Indianapolis, where she spoke at the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority national convention.
She said that “extremists” were pushing “revisionist history” that “enslaved people benefited from slavery.”
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it,” Harris said.
She added that “there is so much at stake in this moment: our most basic rights and freedoms, fact versus fiction, foundational principles about what it means to be a democracy.”
Harris avoids mentioning DeSantis by name, instead referring more generally to “so-called leaders” who she says are depriving Americans of their rights and manipulating history for political purposes.
DeSantis responded to Harris and Democrats in a statement, saying “Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies.” He accused the administration of being “obsessed” with his state as it ignores other problems, like border security and crime, that Republicans prefer to focus on.
Christian Ziegler, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said Harris was going to “lecture Floridian parents that their children belong to the government and the government has a right to indoctrinate and sexualize our children.”
He said “the government overreach on parental rights has already been overwhelmingly rejected in Florida.”
President Joe Biden and Harris have pitched their reelection campaign around preserving freedoms.
In a video announcing his bid for a second term, Biden warned about Republicans “dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love, all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.”
Harris will speak on Friday in Jacksonville, a rare bright spot for Democrats in Florida where the party’s candidate, Donna Deegan, was elected as mayor in May.
Although a longtime swing state, Florida has become increasingly safe for Republicans, and recently lurched to the right under DeSantis’ leadership.
As governor, he’s signed legislation on a number of education issues, such as banning drag shows at schools and imposing new requirements for transgender bathroom use.
In 2022, he signed what he called the Stop WOKE Act, which limits how race can be taught in school and which the governor used to attack critical race theory –- a subject he has described as “crap.” The law essentially says students can’t be made to feel guilty about their race because of injustices of the past.
Critics said the law was DeSantis’ attempt to suppress an accurate account of Black history. The law is being challenged in court.
“The full measure of African American history is not a hand-picked Rosa Parks here and a Martin Luther King Jr. there,” said Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell, who is Black. “It is the sweeping collection of stories spanning several centuries, the lessons of cruelty and inhumanity interwoven in the determination of a people to live and breathe free. It is as much Florida’s story as the nation’s story and it needs to be fully told.”
Earlier this year, the DeSantis administration rejected a College Board Advanced Placement course on African American history, which DeSantis said was “indoctrination.”