black caucus florida

black caucus florida

Susan Walsh / AP, file

Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., center, talks with reporters following a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Horsford is joined by, from left, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo. The Congressional Black Caucus is pushing the White House, Justice Department and the Department of Education to adopt an “aggressive legal strategy” to scrutinize recent changes to Florida’s Black history curriculum.

Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada says he had seen enough in recent weeks with policies affecting Black Americans.

Black voting power had been diluted after redistricting in Alabama and Louisiana, the conservative majority Supreme Court overturned 45 years of precedent to end to race-based affirmative action at America’s colleges and universities, and books teaching Black history were being banned in schools.

“The attacks against Black people and Blackness are coordinated, well-funded, coming from every side, and they are about race,” said Horsford, chair of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus. “We’re at an inflection point in this fight, and we need to be clear about who we are up against and what we must do to win.”

Horsford, a Democrat, was speaking late this month at the Capitol during a Congressional Black Caucus event to rebuke Republicans’ policy platforms, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions Horsford says are eroding individual freedoms that disproportionately affect Black Americans. All of the caucus’s 58 members are Democrats.

Among the topics that drew the most ire, the Black Caucus took aim at a new education policy enacted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is also seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — that revises standards for the way Black History is taught in public schools.

That includes a benchmark for instructing how “slaves developed skills, which in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Proponents say the new policy is similar to language used by the College Board for Advanced Placement’s African American Studies course, which states “in addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians and healers.”

However, Horsford and the others lawmakers in the caucus say the language is simply regressive.

“Black people did not benefit from slavery,” Horsford said. “We built this country. Our literal blood, sweat and tears were squeezed out of our souls to build roads and bridges, construct beautiful mansions and government buildings, including this very Capitol and the White House. And in the end, what did the Black families have to show for it? We did not have equity in the buildings we built. Farmers were made rich by the free labor that was provided. And then the start of the second-class citizenship and segregation began to take root.”

He continued: “These are the things we must teach in our history. This is the real story of Black America. This is the reality we had to endure.”

The new policy also drew scrutiny from GOP Rep. Byron Donalds, the only Black lawmaker in Florida’s federal congressional delegation and a supporter of former President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, he tweeted “the new African-American standards in FL are good, robust & accurate. That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted,” which drew swift pushback from many DeSantis allies.

“While I do not agree with a lot of his positions or his votes, on this issue, calling out the governor and the board of education for standards that would indicate slavery was a benefit should be condoned,” Horsford said. “This is not a Black issue. Everyone should be able to agree that slavery had no benefit.”

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature also recently passed the so-called “Stop WOKE” law that prohibits instruction on race relations or diversity that “imply a person’s status as either privileged or oppressed” is determined by his or her race, color, national origin or sex, which DeSantis signed into law in January.

In June, the high court ruled against Alabama Republicans in a congressional redistricting case in which justices ruled the state was in violation of the Voting Rights Act that featured one majority-Black district of the state’s seven, despite Black residents comprising nearly a quarter of the state’s population. But the Alabama Legislature flouted the order when it passed the congressional map this month.

“This map does not comply with the Supreme Court’s order and is an insult to Black voters across this nation,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., who is a member of the caucus. “At a time when many are trying to erase our history and roll back our progress, this is yet another reminder that old battles have become new again.”

Black Caucus members also took issue with last year’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned the long-standing presumption that the Constitution protected the right to receive an abortion, and a separate decision this month that prohibits colleges and universities from using race as a determining factor for admissions.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is a significant setback to our effort to eliminate disparities and access to higher education and ensure diverse learning environments,” said caucus member Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia.

This month, Horsford penned a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, demanding that lawmakers charged with judicial nominations ditch the so-called blue slip system — which is a mechanism by which home-state senators can either support or oppose a potential appointee. While Durbin has remained relatively mum on whether the blue slip system will stay, Horsford said he would use his influence as chair of the Black Caucus to sway key lawmakers from confirming a pair of judges in Louisiana.

The group also fielded questions about recent comments made by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who this month admitted he thinks white nationalists “are racists” after several media interviews in recent weeks declining to describe them as such; as well as remarks from Rep. Eli Crane, R- Ariz., in which he used the term “colored people” when debating an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act on July 13.

“My amendment has nothing to do with whether or not colored people or Black people or anybody can serve,” Crane said from the floor, later saying he meant to use the term “people of color.”

His remarks were ultimately struck from the congressional record, according to NBC News. The comment came as conservative legislators are largely working to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the military and federal government.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the comments were “not acceptable” but no further action was taken against Crane.

“We should expect members of either party to completely denounce racism and bigotry in this country, even when it comes from members of their own party,” said Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, D-Fla. “What we get isn’t that. What we get is deep hypocrisy.”

[email protected] / 702-990-2681 / @Casey_Harrison1

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Mike McNamara

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