WASHINGTON (AP)—President Donald Trump kicked off Black History Month on Wednesday by gathering some of his black aides and supporters at the White House for a “listening’’ session in which he praised the contributions of slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other African-American icons.
“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,’’ Trump told the group gathered in the Roosevelt Room.
The president’s comments drew immediate backlash on social media from critics who perceived it as a reference to a still-living Douglass. Douglass, who died in 1895, was one of the country’s most influential and celebrated African-Americans.
Douglass was born a slave, and became an orator and a leading figure in the anti-slavery movement. Over the last 20 years of his life, Douglass served as marshal and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, as well as U.S. minister to Haiti. Black History Month originally started out as a weeklong celebration that included Douglass’ birthday along with that of President Abraham Lincoln.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer later said it would become clearer what Trump meant by having noticed Douglass being recognized “more and more.’’
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions he has made,’’ Spicer said.
The White House has said Trump plans to issue an official proclamation recognizing Black History Month, which has been recognized by every U.S. president since 1976. Other White House events are planned, including a gala and receptions, officials said.