Image by: The Weekly Challenger

As the back-to-school season approaches in St. Petersburg, Florida, a new subject is generating conversations beyond the classroom walls. The State Board of Education’s release of a revised African American history curriculum for grades K-12 has sparked controversy, with critics highlighting a section suggesting that African Americans derived benefits from slavery. Amidst this debate, a powerful tool from the past has resurfaced: Freedom Schools.

These schools, harking back to the civil rights era, are serving as a guide of education and empowerment for students today.  The Association of African American Life and History had proposed the idea of launching a Freedom School as far back as 2014.

 This summer, that idea materialized in St. Petersburg, as the first class graduated from the Freedom School. The timing couldn’t be more needed, considering the ongoing discussions about the portrayal of African American history in the curriculum. One young student at the Freedom School, Abyssinia, shared her perspective: “By coming to Freedom Schools, we get to learn so much more about Black history and not just the bad parts.”  The concept of Freedom Schools originated during the historic “Freedom Summer” of 1964 in Mississippi. This initiative, led by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), aimed to shed light on the racial violence and oppression prevalent in the state. 

The focus was on voting rights, diversifying delegates for the democratic national convention, and establishing Freedom Schools. Moreover, Despite legislative attempts to thwart them and acts of violence such as cross burnings, these schools persevered, becoming symbols of resilience and determination.  The lessons from the past remind us of the significance of teaching history in its entirety, including the struggles and triumphs. Just as the Freedom Schools of the 1960s defied adversity to impart knowledge and hope, today’s Freedom Schools in St. Petersburg are echoing this sentiment.

 Last, In a time when critical discussions about history’s accurate portrayal are taking center stage, these schools serve as vital platforms to provide a comprehensive understanding of African American history.