Press Release

AFT’s Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey Slam ‘Disgusting’ New Florida Claim that Slavery Helped Black People Become Teachers

For Release:


Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603

NEW YORK—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and her colleague Leo Casey, a retired teacher from Brooklyn’s Clara Barton High School for Health Professions and Bard High School Early College, and former director of the Albert Shanker Institute, issued a joint statement after Florida’s Department of Education claimed that Black people benefited from slavery and learned valuable “teaching” skills during their enslavement:

“This is disgusting and willfully ahistorical. Normally publishing a grievously racist notion like ‘slaves benefited from slavery’ would be considered an embarrassment and quickly withdrawn. But not for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, where doubling down on this noxious claim is seen as a badge of honor.

“We shouldn’t have to debunk this, but let’s do it anyway: Slave codes made it illegal to teach enslaved people to read and write. In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass famously wrote of how he was expressly forbidden by his master to learn how to read and write, and how he had to become literate surreptitiously.

“It is beyond belief that Florida would be claiming that enslavement provided the skills to become teachers, and to cite examples of enslaved individuals overcoming the strictures of slavery to become literate as justification for its ‘there were “good points” of slavery’ argument.

“The evidence that enslaved people were not passive “victims of oppression” is found not in these contrived examples, but in their resistance to enslavement and their struggle to be free, which began on the ships of the Middle Passage, and continued in the Underground Railroad, the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War, and in daily acts of resistance to enslavement.

“Students should learn of Crispus Attucks not because he learned a skill while enslaved, as this claim proposes, but because he was a freedom fighter who died in the Boston Massacre. Attucks was one of the first Americans to give their lives in our struggle for independence from Britain.

“Booker T. Washington was 7 years old when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The idea that he learned ‘the skills’ to become a teacher while enslaved is preposterous.

“Ron DeSantis should be ashamed, if he were capable of feeling shame. Instead, Black Americans are forced to endure yet another insult from an execrable wannabe dictator determined to celebrate and stoke their subjugation.”

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.