Florida’s False Lessons On Tulsa, Atlanta and Other Racial Massacres Are Terrifying

A schoolhouse with books superimposed on the front

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

As we celebrate Juneteenth, the newest Federal holiday, and the freeing of enslaved people in America, Florida’s education curriculum provides some lessons that are not only terrifying but also violate the very lessons that they teach about the rule of law.

Most Americans are more familiar with the debate over lessons passed last year that claim slaves benefitted from slavery by learning skills, according to NBC. “The Florida State Board of Education’s new standards includes [sp] controversial language about how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” according to a 216-page document about the state’s 2023 standards in social studies, posted by the Florida Department of Education.”

The Conversation and Mother Jones debunked such arguments.

The furor over slavery may have masked an even darker educational lesson in Florida about the history of African Americans, one that assigns partial blame to blacks for the worst racial massacres in American history.

As NBC reveals “Other language that has drawn the ire of some educators and education advocates includes teaching about how Black people were also perpetrators of violence during race massacres. That language says, ‘Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.’”

According to the Homeland Security Digital Library, a young black man was accused of assaulting a white girl. When 75 African Americans showed up armed to protect the young man against strong rumors of a lynching, they were opposed by 1,500 armed whites. The result was 300 dead, and businesses, schools and churches burned in the thriving Greenwood District of Tulsa where African Americans lived. Oh, and the young African American man was released without any charges against him.

As for Atlanta in 1906, unsubstantiated reports of assaults on white women, whipped up by opportunistic politicians, led to mob attacks on blacks. A meeting of blacks to plan for self-defense was raided by the cops. “Newspaper accounts at the time and subsequent scholarly treatments of the riot vary widely on the number of casualties. Estimates range from twenty-five to forty African American deaths, although the city coroner issued only ten death certificates for Black victims. Most accounts agree that only two whites were killed, one of whom was a woman who suffered a heart attack on seeing the mob outside her home,” according to The New Georgia Encyclopedia.

The Ocoee and Rosewood massacres similarly follow a pattern of disproportionate violence, now being taught in Florida as a “both sides-ism” or “whataboutism” which seeks to justify these extrajudicial killings. Hopefully, these educational lessons, linked to the “Stop Woke Act,” won’t catch on in Georgia, where covering the facts instead of covering for politicians will take place in the classroom.

But since Florida educators are forced to teach it this way, maybe they’ll link such lessons to this one, also taught. In SS.6.CG.1.3, “Students will recognize that the rule of law is a foundational principle of the U.S. government.” They should learn that rule of law doesn’t mean just making a law and enforcing it on all people, or just some people. Rule of law means that the law is binding on lawmakers and those charged with enforcing the law as well.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His “X” account is JohnTures2.