Posted on October 3, 2023

Black History ‘Underground Railroad’ Forms Across US After Increase of Book Bans

Deborah Barfield Berry, USA Today, September 30, 2023

Black historians read passages from banned books last week in a local park in Florida.

In Washington, D.C., Black members of Congress that same week hosted panels on preserving Black history at a conference.

And in Pennsylvania, a 91-year-old pastor reached out to an expert in South Carolina to help his church set up Black history lessons.

They are part of a growing movement across the country of educators, lawmakers, civil rights activists and church leaders who say there is a renewed urgency to teach Black history in the wake of a crackdown on Black scholars and inclusive lesson plans. The effort has seen historians share ways others can teach Black history, churches hold history classes during Bible study, film festivals showcase Black history work, and Black leaders in Congress ask museums and local institutions to help in the campaign to preserve that history.

“There’s a movement across the country to suppress the teaching of Black history,’’ Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, said. “We have to meet that challenge head-on.”

The push to teach more Black history comes as dozens of states, including Florida, Texas and Oklahoma, have adopted or proposed measures that critics say omit important parts of Black history or limit language related to race, sexuality and gender issues in public schools. Some have also banned books, many by Black authors that focus on race.

“There’s urgency because these histories are under assault,’’ said Bobby Donaldson, an associate history professor at the University of South Carolina. {snip}


At least 21 states have introduced legislation this year to limit the teaching of “divisive” concepts or criticalrace theory in public schools and/or higher education institutions, according to Emily Ronco, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 14 states passed legislation. Last year, at least 24 states considered such legislation, according to NCSL.

Supporters of so-called anti-woke laws said such measures protect against teaching divisive issues and blaming current generations for past injustices such as slavery. Republicans have particularly attacked critical race theory, calling it “woke indoctrination.” Critical race theory is an academic framework that argues the legacy of slavery shapes systemic racism in existence today.

The debate on how Black history is taught has largely centered on Florida because state officials also banned this year the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course. State officials there have said African American history is already taught in schools. They’ve said some course material violates state law and take issue with the inclusion of lessons on the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, Black feminism and reparations.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, signed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act into law in 2022, which, among other things, limits how history can be taught.


The political battles have sparked a renewed passion for some to protect Black history, including books, films and historic documents.


Civil rights activists and others said they must do a better job of teaching Black history in churches, community venues and homes.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said his organization is exploring how it can incorporate Black history sessions in its after-school programs. Meanwhile, the civil rights organization and others have endorsed legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Freedom to Learn’’ campaign, a movement to combat restrictions and misinformation about Black history and critical race theory.

“We are not going to stand silent, sit on our hands and watch and not respond to this effort to degrade Black history. It is absolutely offensive to me,’’ Morial said. “There’s no American history without Black history.”

Crenshaw, who is credited with co-developing critical race theory, said more than 23 states have passed a ban on the way Black history can be taught {snip}

“This is about taking away our ability to narrate our lives,’’ Crenshaw told a packed ballroom last week at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s conference in Washington. “It’s about taking away our ability to talk about inequality. It’s about our inability to talk about the continuing ways that racism shapes every aspect of our existence. If they can take away our ability to speak to reality, how are we going to be able to transform our reality?”

In July, Faith in Florida, a coalition of churches advocating for social justice issues, launched a Black history program offering an online toolkit that includes videos, books and other resources.

Black churches have the power and responsibility to fill in gaps if educators don’t or won’t, said the Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida. She dismissed arguments that teaching comprehensive Black history could offend white children.

“That was ridiculous considering that Black children and Black adults have been offended for years,’’ Thomas said. {snip}