Donald Trump vaguely referred to Frederick Douglass during Black History Month, giving rise to questions on social media if the U.S. president really knew about the activist's contributions. In this photo, Trump speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for the new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (not pictured) at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 1, 2017. Reuters/Carlos Barria

President Donald Trump's speech Wednesday to commemorate Black History Month came under fire when he referred to activist Frederick Douglass. Trump mentioned Douglass — who died in 1895 — as “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Trump's vague reference to Douglass and his use of present tense while talking about the late 19th century black abolitionist gave rise to questions if the 65th president of the U.S. really knew the works and contribution of the activist.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?

Douglass was an African-American social reformer who was born in February 1818 and died in February 1895 aged 77. He was a passionate writer and very vocal about the abolition of slavery. His most notable work is his autobiography "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," which has personal descriptions of the horrors of slavery, making it one of the most important works of the era. During the Civil War, Douglass argued strongly for the war as a moral crusader. Douglass wrote his last autobiography "Life and Times of Frederick Douglass" — first published in 1881.

In 1848, Douglass was the only African-American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, in New York.

Douglass also became the first African-American to be nominated as a vice president of the U.S. as part of the Equal Rights Party. He was the running mate and vice presidential nominee of Victoria Woodhull.

What Trump Said About Douglass?

Trump’s lack of description on any of the few black Americans he recognized by name during his Black History Month speech bought in mixed reactions on social media. Even White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed confused when asked what Trump meant when he said Douglass is being recognized “more and more.”

“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said in a press briefing. “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.”

Douglass' Family Statement:

Robert Benz, the co-founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, issued a statement on behalf of the family defending Trump's use of present tense while referring to Douglas.

"The President’s comments from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, about Frederick Douglass, were noted and appreciated by us, the Douglass family," Benz said. "Like the President, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month."

Benz also said that if Trump would have had more time then he would have highlighted the following:

Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job …* Enduring the inhumanity of slavery after being born heir to anguish and exploitation but still managing to become a force for solace and liberty when America needed it most,* Recognizing that knowledge was his pathway to freedom at such a tender age, * Teaching himself to read and write and becoming one of the country’s most eloquent spokespersons, * Standing up to his overseer to say that ‘I am a man!’ * Risking life and limb by escaping the abhorrent institution, * Composing the Narrative of his life and helping to expose slavery for the crime against humankind that it is, * Persuading the American public and Abraham Lincoln that we are all equal and deserving of the right to live free, * Establishing the North Star newspaper when there was very little in the way of navigation or hope for the millions of enslaved persons, * Supporting the rights of women when few men of such importance endeavored to do so, * Arguing against unfair U.S. immigration restrictions, * Understanding that racism in America is part of our “diseased imagination,” * Recruiting his sons—who were born free—to fight in the war to end the enslavement of other African Americans, * Being appointed the first black U.S. Marshal by President Rutherford B. Hayes, * Being appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison, * Serving as a compelling role model for all Americans for nearly two centuries.”

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