The direct descendants of Frederick Douglass responded late Wednesday to President Trump’s vague comments about the celebrated 19th century African-American abolitionist, writer and orator.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” Trump said during what was billed as an “African-American History Month listening session” at the White House.
The president’s comments were “noted and appreciated by us,” the Douglass family said in a statement published by the Huffington Post. “In fact, we believe, if he had more time to elaborate, the President would have mentioned the following.”
The family then listed 15 things Trump could have specified.
“Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job …
* Enduring the inhumanity of slavery after being born heir to anguish and exploitation but still managing to become a force for solace and liberty when America needed it most,
* Recognizing that knowledge was his pathway to freedom at such a tender age,
* Teaching himself to read and write and becoming one of the country’s most eloquent spokespersons,
* Standing up to his overseer to say that ‘I am a man!’
* Risking life and limb by escaping the abhorrent institution,
* Composing the Narrative of his life and helping to expose slavery for the crime against humankind that it is,
* Persuading the American public and Abraham Lincoln that we are all equal and deserving of the right to live free,
* Establishing the North Star newspaper when there was very little in the way of navigation or hope for the millions of enslaved persons,
* Supporting the rights of women when few men of such importance endeavored to do so,
* Arguing against unfair U.S. immigration restrictions,
* Understanding that racism in America is part of our ‘diseased imagination,’
* Recruiting his sons—who were born free—to fight in the war to end the enslavement of other African Americans,
* Being appointed the first black U.S. Marshal by President Rutherford B. Hayes,
* Being appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison,
* Serving as a compelling role model for all Americans for nearly two centuries.”
“Like the President, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments,” the family added, “because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month.”
Kenneth Morris, the founder of the Fredrick Douglass Family Initiative and Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, told Yahoo News that he was initially shocked by Trump’s remarks.
“My first gut reaction was to go on the attack and say, ‘I can’t believe President Trump doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass is,'” Morris said. “But as we started to think about how we could really approach this, I idea was to teach the American public about my great ancestor and the many other heroes and heroines that came before us.”
Morris said Trump needs to ditch the campaign rhetoric if he wants to bridge the racial divide.
“His campaign was very divisive and the rhetoric opened a lot of old wounds that have always been there,” Morris added. “He really need to reach out and be the president and unify the country. And that unification happens with the words that you use. And so I would like to see him on Twitter and in the media begin to use language that unifies the country.”
During a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Yahoo News asked White House spokesman Sean Spicer to clarify what Trump meant about Douglass’ contributions becoming more recognized.
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer replied. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
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