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New Jersey Jumps Ahead in Teaching Black History

Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Ras J. Baraka, NJIT President Joel S. Bloom and Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León pose with students during a press conference in New Jersey. (Courtesy of the City of Newark)

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the expansion of Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies classes in New Jersey.

The governor made the announcement during Black History Month as he visited Science Park High School in Newark.

Murphy said the AP African American Studies class would be taught in 26 New Jersey high schools during the 2023-2024 academic year.

Currently, only one school in New Jersey offers the class.

Murphy spoke to a large gathering at the high school about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration’s recent decision to ban critical race theory in schools, including AP African American Studies.

In contrast, New Jersey will teach its students that Black History is American History, Murphy asserted.

The expansion of the AP African American Studies class will offer students the opportunity to learn about the country’s history and how Black Americans have affected it, the governor insisted.

Newark School District has led the way with respect to expanding African American History education, officials declared.

Since 2020, that district has developed and launched a new curriculum including units of study for K-11 that focus on Black History.

In the 2023-2024 academic year, six schools in Newark will offer the AP African American Studies class.

“In order to truly understand the complexities of our nation, students must be able to learn about all the facets of American History,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “The study of African American History is integral in a child’s educational upbringing as it ensures that they learn a complete picture of what makes America, America.”

Florida isn’t the only state where critical race theory and certain books are banned, but some places are working to combat such ideals.

In Washington, D.C., a bill passed three years ago that would require all public schools to teach African American history. D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie introduced the bill in 2020 which adds a course to help students learn more about American history. The legislation— the African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020 — would require counting the course toward graduation requirements.

A dozen Council members co-introduced the bill that also would require the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education to develop an African American and Cultural Studies curriculum for high school students throughout the District.

Further action remains.

According to a database maintained by the research agency Education Commission of the States, at least four reliably Democratic states have passed laws since 2019 that require instruction on Black history. These states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Rhode Island – all of whom passed the laws in part because of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

According to the law in Connecticut, the component of the curriculum devoted to social studies that covers Latino, Puerto Rican, and African American studies must be included in all public schools.

The state of Delaware requires all school districts to provide lessons on African American history.

African American studies and the study of the history of genocide are both mandated in the testing standards for the state of Maine.

And the state of Rhode Island mandates that schools incorporate a lesson on the history and heritage of African Americans.

According to the database maintained by the Education Commission, over the course of the previous three years, an additional seven states have passed laws establishing K-12 courses in ethnic studies or on the history of Native Americans, Asian Americans, or Filipinos.

This year, Republican state governors and administrations reportedly spent the weeks leading up to Black History Month debating whether teachers should discuss topics such as race, racism, and American history in the classroom.

During the ongoing revision process for the state history curriculum in Virginia, state education officials who were appointed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin have proposed shifting the focus away from Black and Native people as the primary topic of study.

The Republican governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, issued an executive order in January that prohibited certain messages about race from being delivered in classrooms.

Eighteen state laws have taken effect over the last three years that limit what teachers can say about race and the country’s history of race relations.

“Unlike what Florida’s Governor and other anti-Black history Governors across the country, Governor Murphy is prioritizing the truth,” said Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Founding Director of Salvation and Social Justice.

“Black history is American history and when we don’t tell the whole story not only do we further marginalize and oppress a whole portion of Americans, but we also lie to ourselves and are doomed to make the same deadly mistakes.

“We applaud the governor and look forward to this being coupled with a commitment from every school district to prioritize the Amistad law.”

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