Black History Under Attack

March, 1968: Black sanitation workers, on strike, march through Memphis in the face of National Guard troops. In the College Board's revised AP Black History curriculum, there is now barely any mention of the Black rebellions of the 1960s.

In August 2022, the College Board announced a new course offering: AP (Advanced Placement) African-American Studies. Many eminent scholars participated in crafting the course and celebrated the proposed new curriculum. In January, however, a pushback began when Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, preparing to run for president, announced that, after viewing the draft version, he would ban the curriculum, saying it was not historically accurate and violated state law that regulates how race-related issues are taught in Florida’s public schools.  

When the final version of the curriculum was released this past Wednesday, some academics and liberal groups protested the changes. There is now barely any mention of the Black rebellions of the 1960s. Units on Intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, “Black Feminist Literary Thought,” reparations, and “Black Study and the Black Struggle in the 21st Century” were removed. In addition, “Black Conservatism” was added. While critics of the College Board’s decision have claimed that this has undermined the legitimacy of the institution, UCLA Professor Robin D.G. Kelly, whose writings were also removed from the curriculum, said, “This is deeper than an A.P. course. This is about eliminating any discussion that might be critical of the United States of America, which is a dangerous thing for democracy.”

Professor Kelly is correct. Black history is a history of struggle. When these texts are banned, we eliminate the voices of those who provide a healthy critique of the society we live in, who tell the truth about racism, who highlight the struggles to resist oppression under capitalism, who criticize the system for what it is, and who even point to the need for revolutionary change to address these many problems. And it is important to remember that it was the Civil Rights Movement, and other struggles of Black people, that opened the space for these stories to be told in the first place. DeSantis, his Republican cronies, and the College Board want to hide those struggles from U.S. students.

E. Patrick Johnson, a scholar in Black sexuality studies, in response to the removal of his name from the curriculum, notes a silver lining to this tragic backlash: “It was ironic that the fact that we’ve been removed means, actually, in some ways, more students will have access, because now people are doing searches for our work.”

We encourage everyone to read and learn about the topics and the scholars who were removed from the curriculum. Black people in the United States have always been at the forefront of struggles to better their own condition and our world. Some of the leaders of these movements are exactly the people and struggles that have been removed from the curriculum. Their stories and struggles should be taught everywhere and known by all.

We also must organize ourselves to fight back against the larger reactionary attempts to stifle the teaching of real history. By attacking our rights to understand our history deeply and thoroughly, the reactionary forces of capitalist society are attempting to keep us from understanding how they go about their business of oppressing and exploiting us. They are also trying desperately to keep us from ever learning another important lesson history teaches us – what we can do to build our power and defeat them.