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Evangelicals & Slavery

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

DeSantis is defending new slavery teachings,” The Associated Press reported Thursday morning. “Civil rights leaders see a pattern of ‘policy violence.’”

Said a USA Today headline the same day: “New slavery curriculum in Florida is latest in century of ‘undermining history.’”

“Black History Is a Casualty in Ron DeSantis’s Christian Nationalist Quest,” reads the headline to a July 26 Washington Post opinion column.

Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

(Florida Department of Education has adopted new social studies standards)

In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, [African] Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.

(College Board’s most up-to-date Advanced Placement African American Studies course)

On Thursday, at a conference for the Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta, Harris condemned the updated education standards as “revisionist history.” “Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” the vice-president said. [Vice-President Kamala Harris speaking at the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. National Convention]

You would think, reading the headlines from the national news media, it is inconvertible that Florida is a racist state worthy of condemnation, moral outrage, and public scorn. National organizations like my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., have publicly announced their intention to withdraw from hosting events in Florida. I submit this reaction is much ado about nothing and finds its source from the very pits of Hell.

My angst concerning the national outrage concerning the Florida curriculum on slavery is not with the larger secular community. Evangelicals should never be so naïve as to believe or hope an unregenerate populace would ever endeavor to think and speak from an Evangelical worldview. My continual angst is with the people who claim fidelity to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and profess their conscience can only be held captive by the Word of God.

It is downright embarrassing that the Evangelical community, especially those of African American descent, wind up guilty of what Proverbs 18:16 teaches. Whoever gets in the first word wins the day. Very few Evangelicals seem to pause and engage critically at what the media throws over the fence for public consumption. What other reason can one postulate for the masses losing their collective minds when they go apoplectic over one sentence from a 216-page document?

An undeniably true sentence that even a middle-schooler could realistically come to understand. I repeatedly use the life experience of George Washington Carver as just one example of many to illustrate the truth of the disputed sentence: Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.

Carver used the experience gained as a slave to become one of the most prolific inventors in world history. This reality is undeniable in that the only world we can reflect upon is the actual world that has occurred in time and space. Thus, appeals to hypothetical worlds where Carver could have achieved the same as a free man in Africa are to be utterly dismissed. By the way, that is not how we teach History. History is concerned with what actually took place in time and space.

The Florida curriculum never advances an argument that slavery was a benefit, that slaves should have been or were expected to be grateful for their captivity, or that slavery was good for slaves. When one fairly assesses the Florida curriculum, one can only acknowledge the curriculum accurately recounts the following:

Horrors of British colonialism in Africa and the Caribbean

America’s dark and evil entanglement into slavery

The Florida curriculum is never guilty of the groundless charge of whitewashing slavery. The curriculum deals with the moral ills of slavery forthrightly. The new standards include:

· the struggles and successes for access to equal educational opportunities for African Americans

· how slave codes were strengthened in response to Africans’ resistance to slavery

· how slave codes resulted in an enslaved person becoming property with no rights

The manufactured outrage about Florida’s revised curriculum centered on the one aforementioned singular line. Senseless moral outrage from a 216-page document developed in a series of public meetings by a 13-member team, which included six African Americans, including Michigan State emeritus professor and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Dr. William B. Allen. The updated standards for Black History fill 19 pages and include more than 185 references to slavery, segregation, and racism.

While Vice President Harris shamelessly uses the Florida curriculum to inflame racial animus and appeal to her Democratic base, someone as distinguished as Dr. Allen, along with Frances Presley Rice, forthrightly states, “Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resiliency during a difficult time in American history,” referring specifically to the “personal benefit” clause. Allen and Rice astutely summarize, “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”

Later, in a separate interview, Allen said explicitly that he and colleagues had never said slavery was beneficial. Rather, he maintained, the state standard merely says that slaves “were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement.”

“Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” If that language sounds familiar, it should — it is nearly identical to the language of the College Board’s most up-to-date Advanced Placement African American Studies course framework, but hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story as long as it serves your political aims and you are confident your political base, to include Evangelicals of African American descent will accept whole cloth with no scrutiny whatsoever.

Do you naively believe it is a coincidence that Vice President Harris would dare not criticize the College Board yet attempt to cast Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the evil villain? This, despite the fact that Governor De Santis had no involvement whatsoever in the crafting or approving the curriculum.

As I close this blog post, let me return to the disputed sentence in the 216-page document. You are not thinking intellectually; you are not employing critical thinking if you fail to acknowledge the truth that slaves developed skills that, in some instances, could be applied for their benefit.

I give credit to blogger Kira Davis who wrote,

During Reconstruction, thousands of Black Americans migrated from the south for work in the north. But they were largely uneducated, having only recently been restored their liberty…How would a group of people with no resources, and no help from the people who’d enslaved them for so long, provide for themselves? How would they earn?

Don’t worry, as Kira provides the answer for you.

They [Black Americans] used the skills they had, manual labor skills gained during enslavement. Many Black Americans had become highly skilled experts at their crafts—blacksmithing, boat repair, farming, etc. What they had were the clothes on their backs and the experience they’d gained while held in unjust captivity.

Did you note how Kira regards the Black American experience? Unjust captivity. No rational person today is advocating that slavery was just, not me and not the Florida Board of Education. Slavery was a deplorable evil that a thrice-holy God will one day judge perfectly. Sorry, but not sorry; that is the best comfort one can give Evangelicals who claim the Bible is the authority holding their conscience captive. Evangelicals understand and accept that they live in a fallen world and thus will never experience perfect justice in this world. Perfect justice awaits the eschaton.

Again, my angst is never with unregenerate sinners. They are only following their Father, the Adversary. My angst is with you, my fellow professing cohort, especially my African American cohorts. Why are you allowing the individual who speaks first to be anointed as the right one? Why haven’t you done what I have done? Examining what is being said and weighing it against reality and Holy Scriptures.

The Word of God reveals the following command, not a mere suggestion:

But test everything; hold fast what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21

As always, let me know what you think. Until then, keep your hands to the plow and seek to serve for an Audience of One.

With fear & trembling,

Ricky Kyles, DEd.Min

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1 Comment

Robert McArthur
Robert McArthur
Aug 10, 2023

Love the article. Very well written

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