By Sophie Driscoll ’19
Donald Trump and his cabinet proved just how important African American History Month continues to be today. On Feb. 1, the president rambled on about Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass and, not surprisingly, himself.
It would have been appropriate for Trump to begin the listening session at the White House by honoring the many prominent African Americans in history. However, he drove the meeting in a different direction.
“Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history,” Trump said, employing a fairly meaningless adjective. This superficial comment was not truly aimed to honor King’s accomplishments; it was merely a segue into a long digression about Trump’s relationship with the media.
“You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office,” he said. “It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the—and we have some good ones.”
Trump went on to directly address his disapproval of CNN, stating, “I don’t like watching fake news.” However, he was sure to promote the notoriously conservative Fox News, noting, “Fox has treated me very nice. Wherever Fox is, thank you.”
This accusation against CNN is especially interesting coming from a man who posted the link to an actual fake news story on his Facebook page the next day.
After rambling about the media, Trump transitioned into some very strange comments about Douglass, the former slave, abolitionist, social reformer and politician who died in 1895.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” Trump said.
His use of the present tense indicates that he erroneously thinks Douglass is still alive.
Trump’s cabinet seem equally in-need of a history lesson. At the daily briefing that afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed caught off-guard when asked to clarify Trump’s statement.
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “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.”
Spicer’s comment made it sound as though he too is unsure of Douglass’ significant contributions to American history. Unfortunately, Douglass will not be making “more and more” future “actions and statements,” as he has been dead for 122 years.
Spicer wasn’t the only member of Trump’s cabinet who made surprising statements regarding African American History Month. In recognition of the month, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his praise of a white man.
“As #BlackHistoryMonth begins, we remember when Pres. Lincoln submitted the 13th Amendment, ending slavery, to the states #NationalFreedomDay,” Pence wrote.
Of course, I admire and respect former president Abraham Lincoln and his contributions to ending slavery, but in recognition of African American History Month, Pence should have focused his praise on African Americans. It was Douglass, for example, who played a pivotal role in convincing Lincoln to end slavery.
The Trump administration appears to lack genuine respect for and knowledge of African American history. As evidenced by Trump and his administration’s inappropriate remarks on Wednesday, African American History Month is as important as ever. We must continue to affirm, recognize and celebrate the role of African Americans in American history, even if our president does not.