Two Maryland lawmakers have proposed new legislation aimed at providing greater federal support to promote and preserve Black history, culture, and education in the United States. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Sen. Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, introduced their measures on February 1, the first day of Black History Month.
The legislation would create a council of 12 presidential appointees to advise the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) on promoting Black voices, ensuring that Black history and culture is recognized in schools, providing resources to preserve Black history, and recommending national policies that would generate improved public understanding of African American history and culture.
“African American history is American history,” said Cardin in a statement. “For too long, our history lessons failed to fully acknowledge the role of Black Americans. And it happens in far more places than schools – so much of what we have learned for generations about history, music, culture and more has diminished the role of African American creators, writers, musicians and beyond.”
Mfume added: “This bill pushes back against the attacks on African American history in our schools and communities. We must ensure that Black history is told fully and accurately in America. While the truth of our journey may not be the easiest to tell, it should be protected and celebrated because the story of African American people is intricate and integral to the story of the United States of America – that history must be treated and admired as such.”
The move comes as the teaching of Black history is under fire and facing censorship in some states such as Florida. A new Advanced Placement African American studies course, which is currently being piloted across the country, has come under fire recently. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education attacked some of the topics being covered in the course, including so-called critical race theory and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The College Board, which runs the course, has since revised its official framework, but supporters of Black history education claim that texts by scholars focusing on critical race theory have been removed from the course, and essential topics were left out. According to a statement from the College Board, however, no such changes were made.
The course is being piloted in Maryland at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, part of Baltimore City Public Schools, and is one of only 60 schools in the country participating in the pilot program during the 2022-2023 school year. As of December, 31 students were enrolled in the AP course, according to Dennis Jutras, coordinator of Gifted and Advanced Learning at Baltimore City Public Schools. The district has not received any direct responses from students or families regarding the course, which “is typically the case when things are going well,” he said.
While the proposed legislation may have minimal impact on Baltimore City schools, Jutras said he sees a need for it in some other districts in the state of Maryland. “And, of course, if national legislation would follow, there’s certainly states that could use those kinds of protections, but in Baltimore City, we have a long history of genuinely appreciating academic freedom,” he said.
During a hearing earlier this month by the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Florida, defended his state’s choice to restrict the teaching of critical race theory. “Let’s teach subjects that matter, reading, writing, arithmetic. The so-called CRT, (critical race theory) we’ve said ‘no’ in the state of Florida, ‘no’ to CRT. There’s no value. There’s no value to teach kids to hate each other based on race. There’s no value in teaching kids to feel guilty just because they’re of a certain race,” Bean said.
Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pennsylvania, countered: “CRT, otherwise known as critical race theory, is not taught in K-12 schools ever. This is a talking point that has been used by the opposition party to try to inflame parents and people and it is simply not done, and we need to stop talking about it.”