Florida Republicans Keep Trying to Argue That Slavery Wasn’t So Bad

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A controversial education bill passed in a Florida House vote on Friday. One Republican lawmaker used the opportunity to wonder why educators don’t talk about how some slaves were paid for their labor.

The bill, known as CS/HB 1291, would ban teacher preparation programs and similar courses that teach “identity politics … or [are] based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States.”

During debate over the bill, state Rep. Alex Andrade (R) forcefully argued the point that some slaves were paid. “There is only one way to teach about slavery in Florida, and that is that it was evil,” Andrade said. “But if we can’t have an honest discussion and say that some slaves were paid for their work, and were able to actually get a portion of payment that slave owners received for their labor, then we’re afraid of teaching accurate history.”

“If you were not aware that some slaves received payment — not payment that was good, not payment that was valid, not payment that was moral — but if we can’t even have that discussion in this room, what hope do we have to teach and actually agree on facts? What hope do we have?” Andrade continued.

The overwhelming majority of slaves were, of course, not paid for their labor. Moreover, slaves were treated as property, without basic rights.

“Florida Republicans are hell bent on teaching our children that slavery wasn’t bad,” Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. She added that “Rep. Andrade’s comments today are just the latest example of the GOP’s obsession with whitewashing history,” citing the Florida Board of Education requiring schools to teach that some Black people benefited from slavery because they learned certain skills as slaves.

“Slavery was a horrific evil,” Fried’s statement continued. “This shouldn’t be a bold statement, and Florida’s teachers should be able to teach that in the classroom. Florida Republicans’ continued attempts to teach our children otherwise is immoral and outrageous, and every Republican elected in Florida should be put on record answering for Andrade’s comments — any answer that tries to justify or whitewash the evils of slavery should be considered disqualifying for office.”

Florida state Rep. Ashley Gantt (D), who is Black, responded on social media. “The atmosphere in the house chamber is so insulting and disrespectful,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter, shortly after Andrade’s comments. “White men telling me I may not be aware of facts about the enslavement of my people. WHO TF DO THESE PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE!”

Andrade told Rolling Stone in an email that he made the comments because of “one line in a 200+ page document that was being distorted by Democrats on the floor.” He provided a link to a page from the National Humanities Center that describes rare cases of slaves who were able to “self-purchase” their freedom.

The bill Andrade and his Republican colleagues passed on Friday is the latest iteration of culture war policy spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) that seeks to ban critical race theory and other so-called “woke” ideologies from Florida public schools. DeSantis himself pushed the idea that Black people benefited from slavery during his ill-fated presidential campaign. “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” he said last July, responding to a question about the Florida Board of Education’s new standards.

CS/HB 1291 passed the Republican-controlled Florida House by a vote of 81-31, with eight abstentions. It now moves to the Florida state Senate.

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