President Joe Biden hosts a screening of the movie “Till”, Thursday, February 16, 2023, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Monday that “history matters, and Black history matters” during a White House reception marking Black History Month, a forceful declaration that comes after the state of Florida blocked a new advanced course on African American studies from being taught in its high schools.

“It’s important to say from the White House for the entire country to hear: History matters. History matters and Black history matters,” Biden said, to murmurs of agreement from the roughly 400 people inside the East Room of the White House. “I can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. We learn what we should know. We have to learn everything, the good, the bad, the truth, and who we are as a nation.”

Biden added, “That’s what great nations do.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican opponent against Biden in 2024, has attracted nationwide attention with his administration’s effort to reject the Advanced Placement course in its schools, saying the class pushed a political agenda rather than teaching students history. But DeSantis’ critics say he is censoring critical parts of America’s history and at least one Democratic governor, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, is expanding the number of schools in that state that offer the advanced course.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black and south Asian woman to hold the office, had a similar message at the White House reception Monday: that Black history is “American history, living history, breathing history, history that we create every day.”

“Let us all be clear: We will not, as a nation, build a better future for America by trying to erase America’s past,” Harris said.

Top administration officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and several dozen Black lawmakers were among the hundreds in attendance at the Black History Month celebration at the White House. During the event, Biden rattled off his administration’s accomplishments for the Black community, including tapping a historic number of Black women to the federal judiciary and issuing an executive order to overhaul policing practices.

But “we have to keep going. We’re not finished yet,” Biden said.

He also paid tribute to the Divine Nine, the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities. Harris pledged one of them, Alpha Kappa Alpha, when she attended Howard University.

“I may be a white boy, but I’m not stupid,” Biden said, as the crowd laughed. “I know where the power is.”

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