Tony Norman: Frederick Douglass, now more than ever
February 3, 2017 12:00 AM
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the official columnist of Black History month, I’ve been remiss in not writing about Frederick Douglass as much as I should. The truth is that until President Donald Trump set the record straight this week, I thought Frederick Douglass was dead.
I’m a big fan of Frederick Douglass. I gave one of my sons the middle name “Douglass” in tribute to the great abolitionist born in 1818 and, according to all fake news accounts, died in 1895.
At a Black History Month event on Wednesday in which every black person who has ever said anything remotely nice about him was gathered in one room, Mr. Trump broke some amazing news that will surely make this the most amazing Black History Month ever:
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” Mr. Trump said using the present tense, as if the most photographed American of the 19th century was one of the new groundskeepers at Mar-a-Lago.
Imagine my embarrassment when I found out that contrary to the late Curtis Mayfield’s insistence that “Freddie’s Dead,” the great Frederick Douglass is very much alive.
This was confirmed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s answer to a journalist’s inquiry about what Mr. Trump was referring to with his statement about Mr. Douglass hours earlier.
“Well, I think there was contributions,” Mr. Spicer said, wading in deep. “I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made and I think through a lot of the actions and statements he is going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
Finally! A coherent statement about Frederick Douglass from the president’s chief spokesperson. But this is really on us. Black people have been brainwashed by failing public schools to believe that all of our heroes are dead. Who knew Frederick Douglass was still kicking around like Tupac until Mr. Trump and Mr. Spicer told us?
And obviously, Mr. Trump and Mr. Spicer wouldn’t lie about something like that. It would amount to a serious case of fake news and these are the last two people on Earth who would want to have anything to do with that.
Donald Trump has barely been in the White House for two weeks, yet he’s managed to raise Frederick Douglass from literal and metaphorical death.
Barack Obama was in the White House for eight years and somehow never managed to resurrect a single black icon. In fact, black America’s entire 1980s starting lineup — Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince — all died during Mr. Obama’s watch. If anything, he’s been an icon killer. Sad!
Given Mr. Trump’s obvious appreciation for Frederick Douglass, I fully expect to see the Great Abolitionist turn up at the White House he used to visit so often during Abraham Lincoln’s time.
I, for one, can’t wait to hear what Mr. Douglass has to say about Jeff Sessions’ ascension to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, given his past hostility to the civil rights movement and its agenda over the decades.
As someone who saw the worst minds of the Confederacy up close, is there anything reassuring about alt-right guru and white-supremacist enabler Steve Bannon’s privileged spot in the Trump White House? Surely Mr. Douglass will have some interesting thoughts about Mr. Trump’s version of a Muslim ban.
Given his support of the Underground Railroad in the decades leading to Emancipation, does Mr. Douglass see any parallels with the modern Sanctuary movement and the attempt by churches, schools and municipalities to defy Trump administration attempts to erect an effective mass deportation protocol?
As a crusader against slavery before the Civil War and lynching during Jim Crow’s early days when the Ku Klux Klan was forming, Mr. Douglass is the perfect person to invite to the Sunday morning talk shows to discuss voter suppression efforts in GOP-dominated states.
Since Mr. Douglass was a registered Republican in an era in which Republicans were truly radical, abolitionist extremists who wanted to extend freedom and the right to vote to blacks and non-landowners, perhaps he could be called upon to compare and contrast the Republicans of his day to the folks who claim that party today.
Mr. Douglass is 199 years old now, according to his Wikipedia entry. He’s seen a lot of things come and go in the last two centuries, from lynchings to moonwalks. He’s experienced much of America’s beauty and brutality. He’s seen black people in the depths of bondage and witnessed their first steps into freedom and equality. As a supporter of women’s suffrage, he’s seen women finally get access to the ballot.
Welcome back, Mr. Douglass. Your fiery truth-telling is needed now more than ever.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter @TonyNormanPG.