National News

Knights of Peter Claver Push Back on DeSantis’ Defense of Florida Slavery Teaching

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate and a Catholic, speaks during the Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, July 14, 2023. In a July 26 statement, the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary condemned recent remarks by DeSantis, who stood by his state’s controversial teaching curriculum on the “benefits” of historical slavery in the U.S. (OSV News photo/Scott Morgan, Reuters)


By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — The Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, a historically Black Catholic fraternal organization, is pushing back on recent remarks by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential hopeful, regarding his state’s controversial new standards for teaching about slavery.

During a July 21 campaign stop in Salt Lake City, DeSantis defended a portion of Florida’s 2023 social studies curriculum standards, which calls for instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Asked about the passage, DeSantis replied, “They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”

He then said, “You should talk to (the Florida Department of Education) about it; I mean, I didn’t do it, I wasn’t involved in it.”

That department’s communications director, Alex Lanfranconi, tweeted a July 20 statement — attributed to William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup — saying the text’s intent was “to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well documented.”

Members of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver pray during a Mass marking Black Catholic History Month Nov. 21, 2021, at Our Lady of Victory Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Gregory A. Shemitz)

The comments by DeSantis, who is Catholic, have sparked fierce condemnation by civil rights leaders and educators, including the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies Auxiliary, a Catholic fraternal order founded by Black Catholics in 1909 and which is open to practicing Catholics of all racial and ethnic heritages.

“The Bible teaches that man can only have one Master — and that Master is God,” said the organization in a July 26 statement. “Slavery was a non-Christ-like practice that only provided earthly benefit to the false masters who used false interpretations of the Bible and religion to justify their sinful greed, and complete devaluation of the sanctity of human life — God’s greatest gift.”

“What Governor DeSantis missed is that despite the sins of man, God will always continue to speak and bless his children,” said the statement. “It was not slavery that provided any benefit to the enslaved, but rather God’s unfiltered and unconditional love and reach.”

Citing historian Steven Mintz, the Knights pointed out that “slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron, and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth.”

Under slavery, generations of Black Americans were excluded from such prosperity and also endured the violence of having their families broken up repeatedly as they were bought and sold to fuel the American economy.

Their descendants continue to pay a high price for their forebears’ mistreatment, said the Knights.

“The legacy of slavery continues to have a drastic negative impact on ALL African-Americans — just as it did in its prime,” said the statement.

“Rather than apologizing and providing atonement for slavery, we find some of our Christian brothers and sisters trying to put a smiling face on America’s unholy and unjust original sin,” the Knights said. “History is history — we must not attempt to placate others with attempts re-write it.”

The Catholic Fraternal Order said it “stands committed to advocating for justice and truth through our national and local initiatives which further the Catholic cause of social justice.”