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  • Donald V. Watkins

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Assault on Black History

Updated: Jan 21

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on January 21, 2023


Last week, the nation celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The annual celebration always includes countless clips of Dr. King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.


Political conservatives love to quote the “content of their character, not the color of their skin” part of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to support their stance against any kind of affirmative action that includes African-Americans in the economic progress of this nation.


In 1967, Dr. King spoke frankly about poverty, structural racism and its impact. His statements are as profound today as they were then.



In explaining the reasons for his planned Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King honed-in on the government’s failure to give freed slaves any land, while using legally sanctioned affirmative action in the Homestead Act of 1862 to award nearly three million poor white European immigrants with ownership of 270 million acres of land that was forcefully taken from Native-Americans. This affirmative action program for whites ran from 1862 to 1986.


Conservatives like Florida governor Ron DeSantis never discuss legally sanctioned affirmative action programs for whites. In fact, they passed so-call “memory" laws in states like Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, and a dozen or so other states to suppress of the true nature and history of these programs.


Dr. King Addressed Structural Racism


Here is what Dr. King said about poverty, structure racism, and their impact on American society:


“I must confess that the dream I had that day has at many points turned into a nightmare…….I think the biggest problem is that we got our gains over the last 12 years at bargain rates so to speak……


It didn’t cost the nation anything. In fact, it helped the economic side of the nation to integrate lunch counters and public accommodations. It didn’t cost the nation anything to get the right to vote established. Now we are confronting issues that cannot be solved without costing the nation billions of dollars…”


Then, Dr. King explained the wealth gap between blacks and whites existing in 1967 this way:


“At the very same time that the [federal] government refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress [the Homestead Act of 1862] our Government was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the Midwest, which meant it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm; not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming; not only that, they provided low interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms; not only that today, many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in federal subsidies not to farm and they are the very people telling the Black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with, and this is the reality. Now, when we come to Washington in this [Poor Peoples] campaign, we are coming to get our check.”


DeSantis and other political conservatives never discuss, quote, or show this video when talking about Dr. King.


Dr. King’s history lesson on the wealth disparity between blacks and whites is one of the chapters of African-American history that Gov. DeSantis has banned in Florida’s public schools last week because it supposedly “lacks educational value” and is contrary to the state’s “memory" law.


Four History Lessons DeSantis Wants Banned


Here are four history lessons on wealth disparity that Ron DeSantis wants banned from public schools.


1. In 1915, black social justice activist Callie House sued the U.S. Treasury Department for $68,073,388.99 in compensation for ex-slaves. The white political establishment in Washington claimed that House's fight for economic security for ex-slaves was "setting Negroes wild" and that she was meddling in "white folks things." They labeled House as "defiant" because she would not back down from seeking pensions, life insurance, health insurance, land grants, agricultural assistance, educational assistance, reparations for slavery, and burial assistance for ex-slaves and their families.

In 1896, House co-founded the Rutherford County, Tennessee-based National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA) with Isaiah Dickerson and turned this organization into the first national grassroots movement to help ex-slaves achieve economic security and a chance for financial independence. House, who was a widow and mother of five children, worked as a washerwoman and seamstress. Yet, she hired lawyers to lobby Congress for proposed legislation that furthered the goals of MRB&PA.

In 1916, at the urging of Southerners in President Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, Callie House and several MRB&PA officers were indicted on bogus mail fraud charges, tried in an all-white, all-male federal courtroom in Nashville, and convicted. House was sentenced to one year in prison. White House and Department of Justice records from the era showed that House was prosecuted for the sole purpose of destroying MRB&PA's national grassroots movement for land grants, pensions, and compensation for ex-slaves.

In addition to seeking pensions like the ones paid to Union soldiers and reparations like the ones paid to white slaveowners in Washington, D.C. whose slaves were emancipated by an Act of Congress in 1863, Callie House and MRB&PA also sought land grants for ex-slaves. House, who was born into slavery in 1861, was mindful that Union Army General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 on January 16, 1865, which set aside 400,000 acres of free land for newly freed slaves. Each slave family was entitled to 40 acres. In the Fall of 1865, President Andrew Johnson rescinded Special Field Order No. 15, leaving freed slaves with nothing but their freedom.

Callie House modeled her land grant request on the U.S. government's award of 160 aces of free land (including mineral rights, oil and gas rights, and timber rights) to nearly three million white peasant who were openly recruited from Europe to America under the Homestead Act of 1862. In addition to giving program recipients free land, the federal government set up land-grant colleges to develop “labor saving” equipment and chemicals to give white farmers free help in farming the land. The government also gave white farmers low-interest loans to take advantage of the new agricultural technologies, while denying black farmers the right to participate in the loan programs for the same purpose.


This land giveaway program for whites ran for 124 years and finally ended in 1986. In total, 270 million acres of land (or 10% of the land mass of the United States) from the Mississippi River to the California and Alaskan coastlines were given away to whites for free. This land was originally part of the 1.5 billion acres the U.S. Army took by force from Native American tribes between 1830 and 1907.


Today, some 20% of white Americans are descendants of the beneficiaries of this 1862 Congressional wealth transfer program.


2. In May of 1921, a white mob burned down "Black Wall Street" in the Greenwood Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hundreds of black residents were murdered and the entire commercial district was burned down. No rioter was arrested or prosecuted. To this day, the federal government has not spent one dollar to build “Black Wall Street” back.


3. White Southern Democrats demanded that President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs be crafted to exclude blacks from most of the programs' benefits. Roosevelt caved-in to their demands. Without equal housing opportunities, the wealth gap between black and white Americans that began with slavery, grew dramatically with the Homestead Act's 124-year land giveaway for whites, widened with the destruction of "Black Wall Street," increased substantially with the explosion of white home ownership under the FHA-backed mortgage program, and became a permanent fact of life that is backstopped by nine federal tax deductions (i.e., home mortgage interest deduction, state and local taxes deduction, charitable deductions, tax-exempt bonds deduction, life insurance exclusion, pension exclusion, capital gains exclusion, home sales exclusion, and estate set-up exclusion) that overwhelmingly favor white taxpayers. As a result of this amalgamation of federal wealth policies, the median wealth today for white families is $188,200, compared with $24,100 for black families.


4. The systematic "redlining" of black neighborhoods by banks in both the North and South meant that 98% of Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages went to white households from 1934 to 1962. After I founded Alamerica Bank in Birmingham in 1999, I personally observed systematic redlining that was routinely practiced by publicly-traded and white privately-owned banks in Alabama's banking market. I voiced my concerns to state and federal banking regulators about this unchecked redlining conduct. In response to my concerns, the Alabama State Banking Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Atlanta, and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta formed a protective ring around the "redlining" banks based in Alabama, while manufacturing pretextual reasons to: (a) force me out of the banking business and (b) subject me to the Callie House treatment.

Epilogue


If African-Americans do not tell our history, who will? Nobody!


Now, you understand why Ron DeSantis and other political conservatives want African-American history banned from public schools. They do not want young, impressionable white students to know how blacks have been mistreated by their white ancestors.


Furthermore, the DeSantis crowd does not want black students focused on anything other than sports, entertainment, and celebrityhood (without economic prowess and power). They call this state of being for black students "blissful ignorance."


Erasing the history of America's mistreatment of black Americans has become an art form for political conservatives that is backed by the force of law.

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