Douglas is dead. This February during Black History Month Americans
across the country will commemorate the bicentennial of his birthday.
Last year this time, however, President Donald J. Trump didn’t
appear to know this fact.
kicking off Black History Month 2017 Trump hosted a “listening
session” at the White House leaving listeners scratching their
heads wondering if he knew Douglass -a self-liberated former slave
turned abolitionist -died in 1895. Expecting then-White House press
secretary Sean Spicer to clarify what Trump meant regarding his
comment on Douglass, Spicer, however, made it clear he, too, didn’t
quite know if Douglass is dead.
think he [Trump] wants to highlight the contributions he has made.
And I think through a lot of the actions and statements he’s
going to make, I think that the contributions of Frederick Douglass
will become more and more.”
remarks from both Trump and Spicer could have been an episode of
“Drunk History,” a TV comedy series where an inebriated
narrator fumbles recounting historical events, which illustrate why
we need Black History Month and an intensive tutorial for the Trump
the election of Barack Obama as president queries arose concerning
the future need for Black History Month. Millennials, in particular,
whose ballots help elect the country’s first African-American
president revealed celebrating Black History Month seem outdated. To
them, the continuation of Black History Month is a relic tethered to
an old defunct paradigm of the 1960s civil rights era and a hindrance
to the country moving forward.
in 2017 Trump became president. And queries about whether the
continuation of Black History Month is needed died down, because
Trump has tweeted out an insult to just about every marginalized
group in the country.
his first year in office Trump’s display of xenophobic,
misogynistic, LGBTQ-phobic and racist remarks, to name just a few
from his laundry list of bigotries, appears to have no cutoff point.
Trump’s embrace of white supremacy showed itself in his
statement about black immigrants from what he depicted as “shithole”
countries. And, Trump’s removal of white supremacist groups- Ku
Klux Klan, Identitarians, Identity Christianity, Neo-Nazis, and
Neo-Confederates, to name a few - from a violent extremist group list
put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center highlights the Jim Crow
era Trump wants the country to time travel back to when he say’s
“Make America Great Again.”
repugnant “blame on both sides” comment about the
Charlottesville mayhem that took place last summer depicted the
perpetrators as victims, too. By Trump condemning counter-protesters
similarly as white supremacists and swastika-wielding thugs, many of
his supporters are now more emboldened than ever before to not only
contest the celebration of Black History Month but to insist now on
the celebration of white history month. For example, Boston born
White supremacist Richard Spencer, a Trump supporter, sees no need
for Black History Month. At one of his notorious rallies Spencer
stated that “I would never say something like, ‘I don’t
like black people’ just that “Africans have benefited
from white supremacy.” Trump’s administration, if it
could have its way would indeed have a white history month
Spicer was telling the truth last year that Trump’s
administration will be highlighting Douglass’s invaluable
contribution to America’s history it should start with his
historic speech, “What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?”
delivered on July 5, 1852, to the Rochester Ladies Antislavery
Society in Rochester, N.Y.
the speech Douglass stated to a country then in the throes of
slavery, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to
speak to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your
national independence. . . I am not included within the pale of this
glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the
immeasurable distance between us. . . This Fourth of July is yours,
speech then as now highlights the fight for black independence and
full citizenship. It informs our understanding of race relations
today because it connects with contemporary themes of class and
gender issues, economic disparity and the prison industrial complex,
to list a few.
many years Community Change, Inc. Library on Racism in Boston held
an annual public event called “Reading Frederick Douglass.”
At this participatory reading, people took turns reading aloud parts
of Douglass’s 4th of July speech.
website explains why that particular speech.
Frederick Douglass causes us to think in new ways about our nation’s
history, affords opportunities to open up discourse about race
relations and citizenship (especially immediately before or after the
speech), and raises awareness of the role slavery and race continue
to play in our history and national discourse."
2012, the Federation of State Humanities Councils awarded Reading
Frederick Douglass the Schwartz Prize for the Best Overall Program.
The program is now held in Vermont.
indefatigable activism as an abolitionist help end slavery, and the
13th Amendment made it illegal. But it’s important to remember
his remarks about the 13th Amendment as a country moving forward:
“Verily, the work does not end with the abolition of slavery,
but only begins.”
1866, one year after the civil war Frederick Douglass with several
other national African American leaders met with President Andrew
Jackson to advocate for black citizens voting rights which Johnson
opposed. Black voting rights is still a struggle today.
hope Trump revisits Frederick Douglass.