All weekend, he flipped the pages of the reservations book to show how full it was and apologized to the folks trying to get into Cedar Hill, the Washington home of Frederick Douglass.
“Sorry, we’re really booked. Black History Month, you know? It books up fast,” the National Park Service volunteer kept saying over and over to the folks who flocked to one of the hottest places in town.
Douglass is on fire. Selling out the place. Really getting noticed. His ratings are through the roof.
Plenty of people came to Anacostia over the weekend to learn about Douglass after it became apparent that our president seems to know so little about him — like that he died 122 years ago.
Trump described Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
To be honest? Trump was spot on.
The national historic site that was Douglass’s home in Anacostia always books up in February — Black History Month — regardless of whether his name is trending online.
And that’s part of the problem.
Because the other 11 months out of the year, things are a lot quieter at Cedar Hill.
Which is preposterous, because Douglass is about more than black history and ending slavery. His life and struggle shouldn’t be a seasonal affair dragged out during the shortest month of the year when a politician wants to check off a demographic or make a speech.
Frederick Douglass is American history. Period.
“The American people have this to learn: that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither person nor property is safe,” Douglass said.
He said it more than 150 years ago about slavery, but he could have said it 120 years ago about the Italians or Irish immigrating to America, or 100 years ago about women seeking the right to vote, or 75 years ago when Japanese Americans were being placed in internment camps, or today — about everything.
In his 1845 autobiography, “A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” he wrote: “The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness.”
Nikhil Mulani was woken on Saturday.
“I just wanted to see it and learn more about his life,” said Mulani, 25, a New York consultant who was in town over the weekend and made a last-minute visit to Cedar Hill after he heard Trump’s gaffe. “I was surprised at how relevant all of it is today.”
More than relevant to Linda Falkerson, 60, who came from Reston, Va., to tour the museum and was inspired, but also frustrated.
“The struggle never ends,” said Falkerson, who marched in protests for women’s rights decades ago and found herself on the Mall again last month, still protesting for women’s equality.
Douglass’s house should have totally been hopping the weekend of that march. He was one of the few men who attended the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848.
“In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man,” he wrote after that convention. “All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that ‘Right is of no sex.’ ”
But we make the mistake too often of segregating Douglass and Harriet Tubman and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to black history, rather than embracing their place in a broader American history.
Want to talk about a divided country?
Douglass saw the danger in that in 1869.
“The whole of humanity . . . is ever greater than a part,” he said. “Men only know themselves by knowing others, and contact is essential to this knowledge . . . all are needed to temper, modify, round, and complete the whole man and the whole nation.”
That would totally get noticed if he tweeted that, right?
“It’s mind-boggling how relevant his quotes are today,” said Kimberly Woods, who lives in the District and was about to do her errands Saturday when she stopped. “Wait a minute. I know what I’m going to do,” and she headed to Cedar Hill.
“Please, please, everyone, come to this house. Take a tour,” she said. “There’s a lot here for all of us to learn today.”
Douglass’s story — born into slavery, self-educated, then a scholar and a revolutionary lauded across the globe — is still the story of today’s America.
And it was toward the end of his life, in 1895, when he gave a time capsule of a message to Americans frustrated with the divisions and turmoil of today. I saw them, one after another, writing that message down, or quietly mouthing it at the museum all weekend long.
The message was delivered to a young man who asked Douglass how to keep the nation on a path toward justice and equality for all.
“Agitate,” Douglass told him. “Agitate. Agitate.”