A Florida college professor’s lecture on the civil rights movement was abruptly canceled Wednesday by the Osceola County School District last week after his proposed talk on the civil rights movement raised a “red flag” among those who oppose teaching students about racism in U.S. history.
Michael Butler, who serves as Kenan Distinguished Professor of History at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, was set to deliver a lecture on “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” which focused on how the civil rights movement began before and lasted longer than the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
As the date for his lecture approached, the curriculum director in charge of coordinating his and other seminars in the district canceled the talk after concluding that the materials included in Butler’s lecture would raise “red flags” relating to critical race theory, despite that CRT was not part of his planned remarks.
Butler said he was shocked at the cancellation notice, which was delivered days before the lecture was set to happen this past weekend. He also derided the “climate of fear” that Republican lawmakers in Florida, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, were creating that have “blurred the lines between scared and opportunistic.”
“The victims of this censorship are history and the truth,” Butler said in comments given to NBC News. “The end game is they’re going to make teaching civil rights into ‘critical race theory,’ and it’s not.”
In a statement he made on his Twitter account last week, Butler also warned that Florida’s “war against CRT” is really about “making it difficult — if not impossible — to teach any history that considers the Black experience.”
Florida banned the teaching of critical race theory in public schools last summer. The decades-old academic discipline, which examines how race and gender shape laws and policies in the United States, was not being taught in any K-12 school in the state.
The news of Butler’s canceled lecture comes as the Florida state legislature is advancing a bill that would make the teaching of history even more difficult. Senate Bill 148 would forbid the teaching of any material that could give students “discomfort.” Critics have lamented how such a law could severely curtail or eliminate the teaching of racism and the enslavement of Black Americans in U.S. history classes, if the legislation passes.
“This bill’s not for Blacks, this bill was not for any other race. This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,” Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones, the ranking member of Florida’s Senate Education Committee, said last week.
“At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened,” Jones added, “but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?”
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