As Governor Ron DeSantis stirs up passions over hot-button issues and declares his state the place “where WOKE goes to die,” African Americans in his state are determined not to let him bury their history.

Why is he so eager to suppress the teaching of Black history? His campaign against “woke” and against “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is not a thinly veiled attempt to hide the past. It is an egregious and blatant attempt to hide the past.

Unfortunately, his efforts to crush efforts to eliminate racism have been copied across the nation by other red states, which have passed laws banning the teaching of critical race theory, The 1619 Project, “divisive concepts,” and anything that would make some students feel “uncomfortable.” The language of the last phrase implies that teaching about atrocities by whites against blacks might make white students feel “uncomfortable,” so skip those events. Ignore them. Don’t teach them. Bury the past.

Dr. Marvin Dunn is the leading scholar of Black history in Florida. He is an emeritus professor at Florida International University. I just read his book A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, and I urge you to do the same.

For starters, I learned that the first Black people to arrive in what was later the continental United States arrived with Spanish explorer Ponce deLeon in 1513–not in Virginia as slaves in 1619. Every subsequent Spanish explorer brought Black men with them, sometimes as slaves, sometimes as free men with needed skills. Because Florida was controlled by Spain until 1821, it became a haven for escaped slaves from other states. White troops frequently came into Florida in search of the escapees. Free blacks joined with the Seminoles to resist the invaders. When the Seminoles were deported west, some of their Black allies left with them.

Florida did not acquire statehood until 1845.

Black people in Florida, whose population was about the same as whites after Florida became a state, were subject to harsh discrimination as in other southern states. They were treated as chattel and “owned in the same manner as one owned horses or cows.” Manumission was expensive and rare.

During the Civil War, large numbers of Blacks, slave and free, joined the Union Army and fought for their freedom. After the War, Black men entered political life, but their success outraged whites, who murdered Blacks and engaged in violence to prevent Blacks from voting and assuming full citizenship. Voting was dangerous for Blacks. After Reconstruction, whites regained political power and re-established their dominance over Blacks. Northern whites ignored the betrayal of Blacks across the South, who returned to a state of subservience barely different from slavery.

The southern press, Dunn writes, regularly wrote of Blacks as “lusting beasts” who were a threat to the social order, “particularly to the safety of white women.” Many of the most notorious lynchings (which whites called “a necktie party”) were instigated by a claim or rumor that a Black man had raped or violated a white woman by a remark, a letter, or any sort of familiarity.

The history of lynching casts a dark shadow over the state’s history, and it is so brutal, so vile, so shameful that white state officials never wanted it to be told in school textbooks.

An underlying, persistent theme in lynchings of Blacks was sexual. Whites not only murdered Black men, they mutilated their penises and other parts of their bodies. On the occasions when mobs lynched whites for murder or rape or cattle rustling, they were not sexually mutilated.

The most celebrated atrocity in Florida occurred in a small black community named Rosewood. A white woman alleged that she had been assaulted and robbed by a black man. Word spread fast, and a mob of white men began scouring Rosewood for the alleged assailant. A black woman who worked for the white “victim” said that she had gotten into a fight with her white lover while her husband was at work at the lumber mill, but only other Blacks believed her.

The mob was intent on finding a Black man and punish him. As suspicion went from one Black man to another, the mob besieged the home of a Black family, and shots were exchanged. Both Blacks and whites were killed. The mob responded by burning every home in Rosewood to the ground, extinguishing the community.

Some survivors escaped by fleeing through the swamp. In the 1990s, the few remaining survivors sued the state for failing to protect their homes and won reparations. Dr. Dunn bought five acres in what was once Rosewood; he unearths and preserves relics of what was once a thriving community.

Dunn describes many lynchings, each horrible, but the one that stands out is the lynching of Claude Neal in 1934 in Marianna, Florida.

The story begins when the body of a young white woman was discovered under a log. She had been raped and beaten to death with a hammer. A young farmhand, Claude Neal, was accused and signed a confession; Dunn thinks he may have been coerced. Without a trial, there’s no way of knowing. The police took him into custody and moved him from jail to jail to keep him away from the mob.

Neal ended up in a jail in Brewton, Alabama, 130 miles from the scene of the crime. But a mob found him and brought him back to Jackson County, Florida.

The mob was led by a “Committee of Six” that announced its intention to lynch Neal. An AP reporter was on hand, and the news of the lynching was broadcast through radio and newspapers.

Given the advance notice, some groups issued appeals to Governor David Scholtz and federal agencies to step in and stop the lynching. The governor couldn’t be reached, and the federal agencies denied they had jurisdiction even though he had been kidnapped and taken across state lines.

When the time came for the well-advertised lynching, some 4,000 whites had gathered for the spectacle.

The leaders of the mob were concerned by the large, unruly crowd, so they postponed the lynching. Instead, they took Neal to the Chipola River to kill him. Before he was killed, they cut off his penis and made him eat it. Then they cut off his testicles, made him eat them and say that he liked doing so. Then they tortured him with knives, slicing his stomach and arms, cutting off fingers, then applying red hot irons to burn him. As the torture proceeded, they strung him up, then let him down, and continued the torture.

After he was dead, the whites tied his mangled body to the front bumper of a car, as a deer would be tied, and brought it to the scene of the crime. They dumped his body on the ground, and women and children savaged it some more with sharpened sticks.

Eventually the mangled body was strung up on a tree in front of the Jackson County Courthouse. Pictures were taken of it, made into postcards, and sold as souvenirs. Bystanders continued to mutilate the corpse. The sheriff cut it down the next day. That made the mob angry, and the governor sent in the National Guard to restore order.

As Dunn notes in various places in the book, on the occasions when whites were arrested and tried for crimes against blacks, the charges were always dismissed by an all-white jury. Little wonder that mobs could commit vicious crimes without fear of prosecution.

Dunn points out that he usually found evidence of whites who opposed the mob violence, sometimes at risk to themselves. During the Rosewood frenzy, the white owner of the general store told his white clerk to hide the ammunition and tell anyone who asked that they were sold out.

This brutality is hard to read. It is hard to comprehend. It is obscene. Would it make students uncomfortable? Yes, it would and it should.

DeSantis doesn’t want this history to be taught because he doesn’t want to upset students. But it is factual history. Should it be suppressed? It’s not appropriate to expose very young children to these historical events. They might have nightmares. But high school students should learn this history because they are mature enough to think about it and consider its root cause: racism.

Is it “woke” to learn the truth? I don’t think so.

The only people who would react to this history with a sense of guilt and shame are those who identify with the oppressors.

Most people, I think, would identify with those who were brutalized, commiserating with them as fellow human beings subjected to inhumane treatment.

The whites who want to hide, purge, and suppress this history identify with the oppressors.

What do you think?