Black in the Sunshine State

Black in the Sunshine State

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Last summer, Reveal host Al Letson returned home to Jacksonville, Florida, to find a changed state. The Republican Legislature had passed a slate of laws targeting minority groups. Educators could now face criminal penalties over the material they teach regarding gender and sexuality, and schools across the state were banning books about queer families, transgender youth and Black history. There were also repeated instances of racist and anti-Semitic speech, including Nazis waving swastikas in front of Disney World. All of this contributed to the NAACP issuing a rare travel advisory stating that “Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.” Then on Aug. 26, a White supremacist killed three Black people at a Dollar General in Jacksonville. 

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attended a vigil for the victims, he was met with boos and mourners shouting, “Your policies caused this.” 

In this episode, Letson digs into the policies DeSantis and the Legislature have passed in recent years and their effects on Black Floridians and other people of color. He speaks with a history teacher who says the new laws have made it harder to educate students, as well as a mother who describes books being removed from her daughter’s classroom and rules barring students from sharing books with friends at school. Letson also interviews state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican who championed many of the new policies, including the Stop WOKE Act, which restricts how racism and history are taught in schools. 

In the final segment, Letson examines redistricting in the state. In 2022, DeSantis vetoed maps drawn by the Republican Legislature, and the governor’s office instead drew new maps that got rid of two Black-dominated districts and increased the number of Republican-leaning districts. Those maps, which were subsequently passed by lawmakers, are now being battled over in both state and federal court. To understand the debate, Letson speaks with reporter Andrew Pantazi of the Jacksonville news organization The Tributary, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Fine defends the new maps, saying they’re designed to challenge Florida’s Constitution, which he argues requires “racial gerrymandering.” Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon says the new maps violate Florida’s constitutional protections of racial minorities and their ability to “elect representatives of their choice.”

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