A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
At a Black History Month event a few weeks ago, President Donald Trump referred to Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) as though he were a contemporary figure.
“[Frederick] Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job,” he said, as though this was someone in his cabinet, rather than a historical figure who has been dead for 122 years. It’s not a surprise that Trump does not know who Frederick Douglass was. He knows precious little about the America he wants to make “great again.”
On his way to the event, someone must’ve whispered, “Talk about Frederick Douglass!,” so he just winged it. But here’s the basic thing that he should have known: Douglass started life as a slave and freed himself to become an emancipator, editor, diplomat, author of three important books (a seminal contribution to the “slave narratives” canon) and one of the 19th century’s foremost orators.
When he referred to Douglass in the present tense and as “Freddy,” someone should’ve started singing the Curtis Mayfield song “Freddie’s Dead.” But that too would have gone over the president’s head.
Trump also mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a few times, but as “Reverend King.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “Rev. King,” since the civil rights icon was a minister, but he is universally known as Dr. King. MLK earned his PhD in systematic theology at Boston University at the young age of 24 and was always publicly known by the title of doctor.
Dr. King was a precocious scholar, having completed high school at age 15. He naturally graduated early from college and entered graduate school when mere mortals his age were in their sophomore year of undergraduate studies.
But Trump has some nerve trying to discuss black history. Not only is he completely illiterate about our history, he is equally ignorant of our present. And here’s some Trump history for anyone who still thinks this man cares about black folks: he and his father never rented to us. He has an affinity for the KKK and he tried to hound the history-making Barack Obama out of the White House for being black.
Yes, Obama made history by becoming the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. Trump, for his part, demanded not only to see President Obama’s birth certificate, he also demanded to see his college transcript and questioned the validity of his having become president of the Harvard Law Review.
Trump actually thought Obama’s tenure as president of the prestigious journal was due to Affirmative Action. Obama, like all others before and after him, had to have outstanding grades and writing abilities, with the latter edited blindly (to assure anonymity).
We will not have Donald Trump reinterpreting black history. We should continue to arm ourselves with the truth of our history— black and otherwise.