During his Black History Month speech, President Trump referred to abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the present tense when paying tribute to him — despite the fact that Douglass died in 1895 — calling him “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
His unusual description did not go unnoticed by the internet, prompting many to wonder if the president actually knows who Douglass was. The descendants of Douglass, however, have said they are fine with Trump’s words because they too use the present tense when speaking about him.
“Like the president, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’ accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month,” the family told the Huffington Post, adding that Trump’s acknowledgement was “noted and appreciated.”
They went on to point out several of Douglass’ specific accomplishments — including his role in the anti-slavery movement, his teaching himself to read and write, his establishing the North Star newspaper and his serving as both a U.S. marshal and minister to Haiti — saying they believe “if he had more time to elaborate, the president would have mentioned” those achievements as well.
“We look forward to helping re-animate Douglass’s passion for equality and justice over the coming year leading up to his Bicentennial in 2018. We encourage the President to join in that effort,” the family concluded.
When asked to clarify Trump’s comments on Douglass, Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared equally confused about who exactly the historic figure was, saying, “Well, I think there’s contribution — I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. 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.”