Bashir Muhammad Ptah Akinyele
Africana Studies Teacher
An Analysis of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy's Position on AP African American Studies and the Struggle for the Soul of Black History
“Just think that the race of Black men, today our slaves and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, sciences, and even the use of speech.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Egyptologist Count C.F. Volney (Voyages on Syrie Et En Egypt on pages 74-77) in 1787.
Powerful elected officials like Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis have forced the College Board to change its AP curriculum on Black Studies. Essentially, racial bias is rearing its ugly head once again in the United States. White supremacy and institutional racism are working to distort Africana Studies. If white hegemony has its way, Black history should only be taught in schools and universities from a watered-down and non-threatening perspective. As a history and Africana Studies teacher in the Newark Public Schools at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ, I was looking forward to hearing from New Jersey’s Phil Murphy position on the crisis of the AP African American Studies course in America.
But before we discuss Governor Phil Murphy, we need some current political context about the destruction of the first edition of the AP African American Studies curriculum.
Reporters Anemona Hartocollis and Eliza Fawcett documented in the Feb. 1, 2023 edition of the New York Times that the College Board acquiesced to the pressures from Governor Ron Desantis. They said, “after heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.
The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum. And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.”
You can read about white domination pressuring the College Board to change AP African American Studies by clicking this link: (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/01/us/college-board-advanced-placement-african-american-studies.amp.html)
Ron DeSantis, and people like him in America, continuously portray a racist narrative of Black History to the world. However, their efforts to suppress aspects of AP African American history is just the tip of the iceberg. DeSantis, and his ilk, reflect the thinking of white hegemony throughout the centuries and up to today’s power structure that Black history is illegitimate history.
Since our sojourn in the western world; we as Black people have struggled to resurrect our history, rescue our history, reconstruct our history, hold on to our own history, tell our own history, and challenge the world to respect Black History as legitimate history. Intensive academic efforts have been made to build a foundation for Africana Studies from many courageous and pioneering scholars. It began in the late 19th century with intellectuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Dow Turner. Even progressive white people added to the creation of Africana Studies, such as Herbert Aptheker and Melville Herskovits. However, from the 20th century to the present, many Black historians took over the reigns of leadership for the study of African American history such as, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Willis Nathaniel Huggins, Drusilla Dunjee Houston, William Leo Hansberry, Yosef Ben Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, James Turner, John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett, George G.M. James, Chancellor Williams, John G. Jackson, Cheikh Anta Diop, Théophile Obenga, Molefi Kete Asante, Abdul Alkalimat, William Sales, Charshee McIntyre, Anthony Browder, Leonard Jeffries, Marimba Ani, Ivan Van Sertima, Jacob H. Carruthers, Asa Hilliard, Rkhty Amen, and Maulana Karenga added to the struggle to fortify the validity of Black History to the eyes of the world.
As a consequence of the world being engrossed in white supremacy and institutional racism, the Ron DeSantises of the world see the study of Africa as the birthplace of humanity as a threat. They see ancient Black /African Kemet (Egypt) for its foundation as the origin of civilization and religion as a threat. They see the study of slave rebellions as a threat. They see the study of slavery as the impetus for American and European monopoly capitalism as a threat. They see the study of segregation as the American stain of democracy as a threat. They see the study of Civil Rights and Black Power as a means for social justice and Black independence as a threat. They see the Black freedom struggle; which became the inspiration for making democracy real for everyone in the United States and the template for social justice movements of other oppressed groups (i.e., indigenous peoples rights, Asian rights, Latino rights, LBGTQ rights, etc) as a threat. They see the study of historical figures like Imamu Amiri Baraka, a freedom fighter for democracy and Black liberation, as a threat. They see the study of the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations as a threat. They see the study of cointelpro (the counterintelligence program) a secret police program that destroyed the lives of many Black leaders and neutralized many Black organizations as a threat. They see the study of the call for Black Lives to Matter that brought attention to rampant police and racial violence in Black community as a threat. They see the study of the 1619 Project as a threat. Any study of history that challenges the view of white domination in the world is going to be seen as a threat, especially Black History.
But on Tuesday, February 14, 2023, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy spoke at Science Park High School in Newark about AP African American Studies. He was joined by Newark, NJ’s Mayor Ras J. Baraka- a child of Imamu Amiri Baraka.
According to Matt Arco of the Star Ledger, New Jersey’s Governor Murphy boldly gave support for Black Studies as defined by the facts compiled by the scholars of history.
In the newspaper’s February 16th 2023 issue titled, ‘N.J. expanding AP African American studies in 26 schools as Murphy slams DeSantis for blocking them’ Governor Murphy said, “unlike some other states in America that are going against telling the complete African American story including of slavery and oppression, New Jersey is going the other way. We’re not the political ones here. We’ve got to tell the whole story of our country whether we like it or not, whether you like it or not.”
Science Park High School will be one of many schools providing AP African American Studies instruction in the state of New Jersey.
For more information about Governor Murphy’s comments on AP African American Studies from Science Park High School in Newark, NJ click this link:
But let’s be clear, white supremacy is at the very root of the white washing and distortion of the AP African American Studies course by Florida’s Ron DeSantis. And that is not democracy nor factual history.
As a society, we have fought hard to advance human civilization by the free intellectual study of history. You can not examine history without understanding that Africa and its people are the progenitors of humanity. It is absolutely necessary that all human beings know about the contributions Black people made to the development of American and world civilization. However, we must know that the evils of chattel slavery and settler colonialism are episodes in history that must be studied to prevent them from ever happening again in human life. However, we must know that people of African descent led resistance movements to liberate ourselves from unjust racial oppression in America and in the world.
We can not let people like DeSantis get in the way with defining world history, United States history, or Black studies as he sees fit.
Under the "newly" revised AP African American Studies curriculum, the College Board removed intellectuals like Imamu Amiri Baraka from the course of study. This is ridiculous.
Brother Amiri Baraka is an important world figure to study and analyze in the history of America and in Black Studies. Amiri Baraka’s leadership played a major role in challenging the US to live up to its ideals of democracy. But at the same time, Amiri Baraka’s revolutionary vision challenged Black people to struggle for Black Power and Black liberation.
Under his direction, Baraka created CFUN (The Committee for A Unified Newark) that organized thousands of Black and Brown people to seize political power from white supremacy in northeastern electoral politics by successfully making Ken Gibson the first Black Mayor of a major US city. But he steered Black people to join the Congress of African People and the National Black Assembly for an independent Pan African nationalist agenda for self -determination.
I am glad a major elected official like NJ’s Gov. Phil Murphy came to brother Amiri Baraka’s home town of Newark, NJ; a place where he organized masses of people to fight for more democracy and for self-determination. Governor Murphy’s platform can counter Governor’s DeSantis racist and biased control of AP African American Studies. Murphy’s position in AP African American Studies is right and exact.
You can read more on Imamu Amiri Baraka’s struggle for Black political power in the early 1970s by clicking this link: (https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/04/archives/baraka-building-foundation-for-black-nation-special-to-the-new-york.html)
However, New Jersey is still not completely free from the negation of Black History by the system in America. In our state, the majority of school districts do not adhere to the Amistad Bill. This educational law (A1301) legally requires all public schools to incorporate African / African American history into all social studies curricula and subject area classes. This bill was created by two former New Jersey State African American Assemblymen William D. Payne and Craig A. Stanley in 2002 (https://www.nj.gov/education/a... ).
The two former lawmakers named the Amistad Law after a rebellion aboard an European Spaniard slave ship named the Amistad. The revolt was led by a Mende born African named Sengbe Pieh (His European slave name was Joseph Cinque’) in 1839. Pieh and the Africans ended up in America. With the help of American abolitionists, Pieh and the Africans sued for their liberation in the US Supreme Court. Pieh and the Afrikans won their case. They eventually returned to their freedom In Africa.
Out of the many activists fighting to make their public schools in New Jersey mandate their districts to be in compliance to the Amistad law; in 2020 Newark community activists led by the Newark Anti-violence Coalition (NAVC) were successful in making the Newark Public School system adhere to the Amistad law for its students.
But let the record reflect, before 2020, it took community activists many decades to get a law mandating the schools to teach the contributions Black people made to human civilization in social studies classes and subject area curriculum throughout the state of New Jersey. This struggle goes all the way back to the Black Power era of the late 1960s and early 1970s in New Jersey.
In conclusion, at the end of the day the struggle continues for many historians, especially the Black historian, to protect the factual history of Black people and the teaching of Africana Studies. While we as people of African descent rightfully engage in the struggle against white supremacy and institutional racism to make it safe for the instruction of Black Studies under the state; we as Black people must continue to liberated the mind of humanity from the centuries of white supremacist pedagogy about Africa and Black people without the "approval" of the system.
-Bashir Muhammad Ptah Akinyele is a community activist and a member of ASCAC (the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations). He is also a history and Africana Studies teacher at Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ and an active member of the Nation of Gods and Earths.
P.E.A.C.E (Proper Education Always Corrects Errors)!
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Posted: Sun, Feb 26