As the son of a man who spent 35 years in public education (go, North High Polar Bears!), I’m highly attuned to the ongoing meretricious attacks on the public schools, which are one of the irrefutable monuments of the American nation. These attacks have taken different forms over the past half-century. At the moment, the tactic involves spurious—and more than marginally racist—assaults on the curriculum at all levels of public education, up to and including that practiced in public universities. The index patient in this outbreak of the prion disease is the State of Florida, Ronald DeSantis, governor.
Before the hype machine really gets rolling, let’s be clear: Ronald DeSantis would be a terrible general election candidate. He is unlikable; he has the rhetorical skills of an andiron; he’s as inspirational as mayonnaise. And on substance, he’s a pink balloon. He has no real principles, only vehemence and the curl of his lip when he talks about the mortal threat posed to Meemaw and Papaw by “Woke Culture.”
Which is why we should all know the name of Marvin Dunn.
Marvin Dunn is an 82-year-old professor emeritus at Florida International University. For years, he has immersed himself in the history that DeSantis is clumsily trying to bury again. Marvin Dunn is a hero for our time. From the Washington Post:
On a recent afternoon, [Dunn] gathered students and their parents at the cemetery and told them about the Rev. Josh J. Baskin and five other Black Floridians hanged by a White mob from an oak tree in 1916 after an accusation over a stolen hog sparked two days of terror. The painful chapter in Florida’s history known as the Newberry Six lynchings is one the university professor has taken pains to help document over decades of research. It’s also one that he fears will be removed from Florida history lessons under a new education law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as part of a broader push to root out ideas he deems “woke.”
The law requires lessons on race to be taught in “an objective manner,” and not “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” It also says students should not be made to “feel guilt” because of actions committed by others in the past. DeSantis and other proponents of the law, which went into effect last summer, contend some teachers have inserted political beliefs into lessons related to race.
To which Marvin Dunn, an actual historian, a man whose intellectual accomplishments dwarf those of Ronald DeSantis, calls “bullshit” in the loudest voice he can summon out of his 82 years.
Dunn is intent on defying the governor — even if it comes at a personal cost. Last year, a neighbor who complained to police that he was angry at seeing “busloads of these Black bastards” at Dunn’s property was charged with assault after allegedly yelling racial slurs to the professor and a small group preparing for an event[…]“Listen, if there is such a thing as the woke mob in Florida, I aspire to lead it,” Dunn said.
Dunn has initiated a series of field trips—”Teach For Truth,” they’re called—that take students to the places where the horrors of the past took place. Among these is the Newberry lynchings of 1916, which are particularly gruesome, even by Floridian standards.
The incident began with a confrontation between a local citizen named Boisey Long and a constable named George Wynne, who had come to Long’s home to arrest him on suspicion of stealing hogs. There was an exchange of gunfire, and as you might imagine, there are two stories about who fired first. Wynne was hit in the abdomen and later died. Long fled into the night. A mob soon formed and rampaged through the local African-American community. Six people were hung from a big oak tree, including a woman named Mary Dennis. She was four months pregnant. Her body and those of the other five victims hung there for a week. People came from all around to take pictures.
“I can’t tell the story of the Newberry Six without expressing my disgust for the lynching of a pregnant woman,” said Dunn[…]“As a teacher who has spent 30 years going from place to place in Florida where the most atrocious things have happened, I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t want the state telling me that I must.”
Neither do I. The country needs Marvin Dunns a lot more than they need even one Ronald DeSantis.
Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children.