FLORIDA: At South Florida’s Only HBCU, Black History is Taught With No Censorship

Professor Msomi Moor has a special greeting for everyone who comes into his African American History class. “Welcome Black,” says the Florida Memorial University professor.

FMU is South Florida’s only private Historically Black College or University, meaning his classes don’t have to abide by the state’s anti-woke legislation. It might be subtle but Moor’s greeting centers Blackness, something especially important in a state like Florida where Black history is being either whitewashed, sidelined or just ignored.

A generation of Black children is potentially in danger of never truly learning about Black history in an academic context. For many students, higher education has historically filled in the blanks yet because of the chilling effect caused by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legislation aimed at dictating how professors can teach, HBCUs like FMU could become Florida’s safest space to have honest discussions about Black history.

“The law in Florida is if you make white folks feel bad in class, you can’t teach that,” Moor told the Miami Herald, referring to HB 7, a Florida law that has been challenged in courts that would prohibit K-12 and higher education institutions from teaching history in a way that could cause students to feel guilt from past actions by members of a shared group. “Keep in mind this is the second Blackest state in the nation. Florida is number two, Texas is number one in regards to population.

If you can eliminate the presence of historically-engaged Blacks here, erase their past and cancel their future, you’re getting ready to create a permanent inferior class. It’s like what they did in the 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s- you’re downgrading the citizenship of Blacks.”

A class like Moor’s underscores the important role HBCUs play in supplementing Black history education among Black students. Born out of the desire to teach Black Americans outside of the Eurocentric education system at a time when many white institutions wouldn’t admit people of color, HBCUs have always played a crucial role in this country’s history.

The institutions have produced some of the best and brightest Black thinkers who have shaped society. And at a time in Florida when books are being banned and the state’s educational standards say that enslaved Africans benefited from their bondage, their purpose has become even more critical.

“The HBCUs have to continue the role consistent with their mission,” said Miami-Dade school board member and Florida A&M graduate Steve Gallon III. “Most HBCUs, if not all, were established when Blacks didn’t have a choice. Their mission was to educate Blacks who didn’t have other options. Now that Blacks have more options, it’s incumbent that HBCUs not run away from but run towards their core mission.”

More than that, Moor characterizes the role of HBCUs as the place where the “three Es” happen — exposure to the diversity of the Black experience, enlightenment about history and empower one another to go change the world.

“The HBCU is a place for empowerment for Black folks,” Moor added. “It’s where we come to get away from racism and learn about each other.”

Inside the FMU/FIU Auditorium, the location of Moor’s Intro to African American History 1 and 2 classes, about 20 students dot the seats. Moor, donning a yellow dashiki with a long gold rope chain, strolls around the classroom discussing how Black consciousness has evolved since the end of slavery. Names like Martin Delany, Tunis Campbell and W.E.B. DuBois are tossed around. Some students sit on the edge of their seats, jotting notes on their laptops or in notebooks. A few whisper among themselves — to the point that the begin to compete with Moor. The professor, however, never yells or gets upset.

“Those who are ready, you give them what you can,” Moor later says. “You can’t be mad at the ones who aren’t ready.”

Instead, Moor will find a different way to reach the student. Maybe talk to his or her friends. Maybe sit down with the student one-on-one. Maybe leave the student alone until he or she is ready to open up. The students who are engaged, however, often have some sort of personal connection to his teaching. History, after all, is rooted in experience, according to Moor.

“History is not something you study, it’s something you can experience,” he said. “To me, history is a tool. It’s like a clock. It tells you where you’re at as a people. “


Black education has always been problematic to America.

Between 1866-1872, roughly 20,000 Black and White Americans were killed for trying to educate Black people, historian Shawn Leigh Alexander said in the documentary “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Between 1864 and 1874, white mobs razed more than 600 Black schools, according to Campbell F. Scribner, author of the book “A is for Arson: A History of Vandalism in American Education.”

Between 1993 and 2023, more than a dozen southern states including Florida, Mississippi and Alabama significantly deprived their HBCUs by more than $13 billion due to their inability to equitably match federal grants for land-grant institutions, according to the Biden administration.

In a letter sent by the Biden administration letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, it was noted that the disparity in funding for University of Florida and FAMU, for example, has robbed the HBCU of nearly $2 billion. A discrimination lawsuit that FAMU students filed in light of this discrepancy was tossed out in late January.

Still, HBCUs have persisted, churning out some of the most influential Black figures over the last two centuries including Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse College), Ida B Wells (Rust College) and DuBois (Fisk University).

This is one of the main reasons students like Deja Deleveaux chose to attend a HBCU. A junior criminal justice major at FMU, Deleveaux didn’t quite know what to expect when she saw Moor’s class listed as a requirement for graduation. It didn’t take long for her to be hooked.

“It gives me a foundation and sense of purpose,” Deleveaux said of Moor’s class. Although she attend Miami Northwestern High, she didn’t learn anything more than the basics of Black history. With Moor, she found a bit of herself — especially considering that his midterm required every student to do their family tree. “Dr. Moor breaks down so you know your culture so that you know where you came from in order to know who you are.”

That is part of Moor’s mission. A graduate of Howard University, Moor came up under the same department pioneered by Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black history.

“If HBCUs aren’t producing critical Black thinkers, then what are they producing?” Moor said.

Part of that teaching also requires a connection to the present. As Moor likes to say, “everything is connected.”

So it was no surprise when Moor started off the class with something that would’ve certainly sent shockwaves through Tallahassee.

“What you see today is a continuation of anti-Black legislation,” Moor said to his students. Moor then cycled through the Dredd Scott decision (“Black people in the United States have no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”), the Compromise of 1877 (“White folks in 1877, 150 years ago, decided amongst themselves that this country will always place national order over Black advancement.”) and Jim Crow (“By law, we’ve been considered less than human longer than we’ve been ‘free.’”).

The purpose, he later says, is to make his students ask themselves “how do I fit in?”

“White folks have been telling us how they felt about us since they trafficked us here,” Moor said to the class. In private, he calls Florida a “representative model for the modern-day destruction of Blackness.”

How these teachings will affect the next generation of students still remains to be seen. For Tameka Bradley Hobbs, the Library Regional Manager for the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, her first Black history class at FAMU awoke in her a passion for the subject itself.

“It completely revolutionized my understanding of my place in society and my place in the family,” Hobbs said. She learned about the chronology of Jim Crow. About the drastic difference between her grandparents’ neighborhoods and the white side of town. About how her parents attended segregated schools. “Those are things you see but no one ever put into context. It was through that Black history class that I finally began to understand the contours and impact of racial discrimination in America.”

And while Moor will no longer teach at FMU after the end of the 2023-24 school year, it’s clear he has made an impact on his students.

“His course is so important and it’s sad he’s leaving,” said Dana Domingue. Although she’s set on majoring in psychology, Moor’s class has her thinking about changing her minor to African American history and even buying a house in a Black neighborhood. “If you don’t learn your Blackness in this class, I don’t know where you would learn it.”