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‘I thank God for slavery:’ Florida African American History Task Force appointments raise concerns

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A member of Florida’s African American History Task Force claims the body was largely cut out of the development of the state’s new African American History standards.

The standards have put the state in the national crosshairs, spurring Vice President Kamala Harris’ Jacksonville visit Friday, where she criticized the inclusion of instruction on, “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

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“Pushing propaganda on our children,” Harris said.

State Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), an emeritus member of the state’s American History Task Force, argued the group had little say in the development of the new standards, despite state law providing for its input.

“This is exactly the kind of thing the task force was supposed to do,” Thompson said.

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Instead, the development of the standards was delegated to an African American History Standards Work Group.

According to the Department of Education, the work group was comprised of 13 members.

Three were appointed by the African American History Task Force, but 10 were selected by the department.

RELATED: Jacksonville state lawmaker issues cease-and-desist over criticism surrounding slavery comments

“Ten to three, that’s a major hurdle,” Thompson said.

Dr. William Allen, one of the work group members, recently defended the state’s new standards on FOX News.

He argued assertions the new standards attempt to paint slavery in a positive light is a lie.

RELATED: Jacksonville attorney considering legal challenge to new Florida African American history standards

“The accomplishments of Black people post-slavery were the accomplishments, not just of Black Americans, but the accomplishments of American principles. And that is the truth people seek to deny by erasing the stories of the people who lived through the histories,” Allen said.

However, Thompson said the defense doesn’t resonate with her.

“Because I think overriding all of that was the trauma to enslaved people,” Thompson said.

RELATED: VP visits Jacksonville, denounces new Florida standards for teaching Black history

Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz told Action News Jax last week the African American History Task Force will continue to meet, and could suggest changes to the standards moving forward.

“There’s nothing that says we wouldn’t go back and take recommendations next year to augment the standards or tweak the standards,” Diaz said.

But Thompson pointed out, six of the nine voting members on the African American History Task Force were appointed by the Commissioner of Education back in May.

RELATED: Florida Board of Education adopts new African American history standards amid criticism

Five of the six new appointees are either directly affiliated with the Republican Party or have previously been appointed to positions by Governor Ron DeSantis.

The sixth, State Representative Kimberly Daniels’ (D-Jacksonville), is facing renewed criticism over comments made during a sermon back in 2008.

“I thank God for slavery. I thank God for the crack house. If it weren’t for the crack house, God wouldn’t have never been able to use me how he can use me now and if it wasn’t for slavery, I might be somewhere in Africa worshiping a tree,” Daniels said during the sermon delivered at Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio.

Daniels previously defended her statements in an interview with Action News Jax during her run for office in 2011.

“If slavery wouldn’t have happened, it was an awful thing, I wouldn’t be living in the greatest country in the land today,” Daniels said in the 2011 interview.

Sen. Thompson sees Daniels’ appointment as another flashpoint that makes her question the state’s seriousness about teaching African American history.

“I don’t see what her qualifications are that would motivate her appointment,” Thompson said.

RELATED: Ribault social studies teacher resigns over new African American history standards

Daniels, in a statement issued this week, again defended her past comments and separated herself from the state’s newly adopted standards:

“I was appointed to the African American History Taskforce by Florida Commissioner of Education, Manny Diaz. Of the meetings I attended, I never participated in any conversation about the state’s Black History standards. In fact, I was never consulted about these standards. I disagree with and would have immediately challenged and resisted any notion that slavery was a benefit to African Americans. I am a Black woman who was born in the early 1960s. I understand the atrocities of racial oppression and Jim Crow. I lived it,” said Daniels. “The “Thank God for Slavery” political ploy was taken out of context from a message I preached 15 years ago. The message was not about slavery but about overcoming obstacles in life as a believer of Jesus Christ. Taking it out of that setting and putting it in any other context is simply slanderous.”

Daniels’ appointment to the task force came after the work group had already completed the new standards.

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However, according to the Department of Education, task force members were offered an opportunity to be briefed on the standards a month after Daniels was appointed.

Another month passed before the standards were officially adopted by the Florida Board of Education.

Whether Daniels had a role in developing the standards or not, State Representative Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) argued Daniels’ past comments raise red flags.

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“That’s not the type of leadership we need here in our state, in our city,” Nixon said.

And despite the new Republican-friendly makeup of the African American History Task Force, Thompson told Action News Jax she doesn’t plan to back down.

“I will continue to voice my opposition or my support if I feel there are things that can be supported,” Thompson said.

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