"Florida officials have blocked the introduction of a new advanced-level high school course that teaches African American history. Governor Ron DeSantis' administration said the proposed course 'lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law.' The course is being rolled out in a pilot programme by the US College Board to 60 high schools across the country. Officials did not specify what law the course breaks." ~BBC News
We have made it to our final Sunday in Black History Month 2023. This month, we at Envision Coaching & Consulting LLC set out with the mission to celebrate Black Resistance and inspire our readers by reigniting their interest in histories long forgotten. As I reflect on this mission undertaken this month to enhance knowledge and intellectual wellness, I can't help but recall some of the more shocking news reports from 2021 until present day how some states are fighting to limit the topic of race in education.
"The Florida Department of Education outlined its intent to block the course in a 12 January letter to the College Board, writing that the course violates state law. 'In the future, should the College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, (the Department of Education) will always be willing to reopen the discussion,' the letter said. The Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course is the College Board's first new class since 2014. It is set to cover more than 400 years of African American history, touching on topics like literature, political science and geography. The course is part of a broader AP programme in US high schools, which gives students the chance to take college-level courses before graduation. A statement by a spokesperson for Florida's Republican governor DeSantis said the course 'leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow'. 'If the College Board amends the course to comply, provides a full course curriculum, and incorporates historically accurate content, then the Department will reconsider the course for approval,' said spokesperson Bryan Griffin in a statement to media." ~BBC News
Does teaching history as it occurred equate to teaching hate? More specifically, does teaching Black, Indigenous, and African American histories here in the United States lead to more hate? If your answer is yes, and I am not here to debate your answer, then our closing blog article of our series Shadows from Our Past: Triumphs in Black History will be an even harder pill to swallow. We will review excerpts of the Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850. It is not only a testimony to black resistance, but it is also as Florida Education Department spokesperson Bryan Griffin stated, "incorporates historically accurate content." Please keep in mind as you read these excerpts that the 1850 bill was not the first of the slave bills passed into law here in the United States, the first was passed in 1793.
THE FUGITIVE SLAVE BILL OF 1850
"An Act Respecting Fugitives From Justice, And Persons Escaping From the Service of Their Masters"
Section 6 And be it further enacted, That when a person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the United States, has heretofore or shall hereafter escape into another State or Territory of the United States, the person or persons to whom such service or labor may be due . . . may pursue and reclaim such fugitive person, either by procuring a warrant from some one of the courts, judges, or commissioners aforesaid, of the proper circuit, district, or county, for the apprehension of such fugitive from service or labor, or by seizing and arresting such fugitive, where the same can be done without process, and by taking, or causing such person to be taken, forthwith before such court, judge, or commissioner, whose duty it shall be to hear and determine the case of such claimant in a summary manner; and upon satisfactory proof being made, by deposition or affidavit, in writing, to be taken and certified by such court, judge, or commissioner . . .. In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.
It was the law of the land of these United States of America that persons who escaped from the bondage of slavery could at a later date be lawfully apprehended. If there was a trial or hearing it would be unlawful for that person to speak on their own behalf. As the law states:
"In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence."
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Acts resulted in many free blacks being illegally captured and sold into slavery. One famous case concerned Solomon Northup, a freeborn black musician who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841. Northup would spend 12 years enslaved in Louisiana before winning back his freedom in 1853.
Section 7 And be it further enacted, That any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney, or any person or persons lawfully assisting him, her, or them, from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor, either with or without process as aforesaid, or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor, from the custody of such claimant, his or her agent or attorney, or other person or persons lawfully assisting as aforesaid, when so arrested, pursuant to the authority herein given and declared; or shall aid, abet, or assist such person so owing service or labor as aforesaid, directly or indirectly, to escape from such claimant, his agent or attorney, or other person or persons legally authorized as aforesaid; or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person, after notice or knowledge of the fact that such person was a fugitive from service or labor as aforesaid, shall, for either of said offences, be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months . . . and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed.
Not only did the slave bill target would be escapees but also any man or woman who dared aid these ones in their quest for freedom whether directly or indirectly, white or black. According to the law any allies of these fleeing slaves were subject to:
" A fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months . . . and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost as aforesaid, to be recovered by action of debt, in any of the District or Territorial Courts aforesaid, within whose jurisdiction the said offence may have been committed."
Despite these challenges and obstacles. They ran. They fled. They resisted. And they had help along the way. William Still's book, "The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts" lets the voices of former slaves and their allies speak for themselves. It was not until the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished that these journals documenting the former slaves' deadly struggles, brutal hardships, and narrow escapes was able to be published. May we never forget the voices of these victors.
WE SALUTE YOU WILLIAM STILL
William Still was an African-American abolitionist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and was responsible for helping 650 freedom seekers make their way to Canada. William Still was also a businessman, writer, historian and civil rights activist. Before the American Civil War, Still was chairman of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, named the Vigilant Association of Philadelphia. He directly aided fugitive slaves and also kept records of the people served in order to help families reunite.
Thank you for sticking around. I can acknowledge this month can be hard for us all. When we study history, we not only give ourselves the opportunity to bring our shadows to the light, but we also afford ourselves the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of history so as not to repeat them. Wellness is varied and we cannot exclude the intellectual pursuits from our picture of wellness. Black American history isn't just about black heroes. Black American history is about American heroes who happened to have been black. I hope Florida and other states learn this lesson before it is too late and irreparable damage is done; after all, those who do not study history.... Until next time. Happy reading!
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