NATIVE SON — Dr. Marvin Dunn speaks in DeLand in 2022. BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK


Dr. Marvin Dunn, retired professor emeritus at Florida International University and prolific Black historian, was born and raised in DeLand. Dunn has become the most outspoken and widely quoted critic of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his anti-woke act.

The controversial law, passed last year, places serious restrictions on how Black history is taught in Florida public schools and universities and has raised alarms about freedom of speech, censorship, and the banning of books deemed unfit for students to read.

Any educator recommending a banned book to a student may be subject to a felony conviction. Many Florida teachers have placed their personal classroom libraries off-limits to students for fear of reprisals.

Dunn’s academic bona fides are unassailable. “I’ve been teaching since before DeSantis was born,” he says. In addition to his university career, Dunn was principal for over a decade of an experimental high school in Miami for at-risk students that was successful in graduating previously unmotivated students. The school now bears his name.

He is also the author of the definitive book on Miami’s Black history, Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. A more recent book, A History of Florida: Through Black Eyes, chronicles Dunn’s years of research documenting atrocities committed against Black individuals, as well as entire communities.

In reaction to the anti-woke law, DeSantis’ relentless critique of the teaching of Black history, and the governor’s clash with the national College Board over its Advanced Placement test on Black history, Dunn organized “Teach the Truth” bus tours, which take students, their parents, and educators to sites of historic racial violence.

He began challenging DeSantis on social media, posting photos of slaves with backs scarred from whippings and instances of outright discrimination and racial violence, asking DeSantis’ “permission” to include that in classroom instruction.

At the beginning of his crusade, Marvin Dunn declared on MSNBC that if there was a “woke” mob in Florida, then “I aspire to lead it.” Reclaiming the word “Woke” as a good thing — an awareness of prevailing injustice faced by people of color — is one of Dunn’s objectives.

Gov. DeSantis has proclaimed that “Florida is the place where woke goes to die.” Dunn contradicts that notion. “Florida is a place where woke is being reborn. We’ve been asleep, and now it’s time for us to wake up.”

At the time of this writing, Dunn was making a formal offer to teach a Black history course at New College, whose liberal president and board were recently replaced in an academic coup d’état instigated by DeSantis.

“I am offering to teach free of charge a Black history course that will be respectful of everyone’s history,” says Dunn. His offer is more than merely tactical. He is in the process of lining up prestigious scholars as guest lecturers and is excited by the support he is getting.

“I’m hoping he [President Richard Corcoran] will say ‘yes.’” Whether Corcoran accepts the offer or not, Dunn is determined to keep woke alive and growing in the state that has become the focal point of where American democracy is headed.

— Hersh lives in DeLand. A videotaped oral history of Marvin Dunn recorded last year is available online via the West Volusia Historical Society’s YouTube page.


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