President Donald toured the National Museum of African American History in Washington, sending a signal of inclusion to the country in black history month days after defending him during a press conference as the ‘least racist’ person.
The president viewed a collection that included exhibits on the ‘paradox’ of Thomas Jefferson’s slaveholding, got told about actual slave shackles in the museum’s collection, and learned about the bloody slave rebellions led by Nat Turner and Toussaint Louverture.
He called the tour ‘a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.’
‘We have a divided country. It’s been divided for many many years. But we’re going to bring it together,’ Trump said in formal remarks.
‘Today and every day of my presidency I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African Americans and for every American. So important – nothing more important,’ the president stated.
Trump summoned Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the podium as gave her a big hug. ‘She is a tremendous fighter for justice, and so Alveda, thank you very much.’
King praised him right back, telling the president, ‘I love you and your family. You’re the best. You’re great.’
Trump also spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish community centers – something he failed to do when asked about them at a press conference last week.
He instead went after the reporter who asked the question and claimed he’s the ‘least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life.’
In remarks at the museum, Trump said, ‘The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.’
He told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin in a one-on-one before the speech that he ‘of course’ denounces anti-Semitism and does so ‘whenever I get a chance.’
‘I do all the time. And I think it’s terrible. I think it’s horrible, whether its anti-Semitism or racism or anything you want to think about having to do with the divide,’ he said. ‘Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s gonna stop. And it has to stop.’
Among his favorite exhibits was one of the great heavyweight Mohammad Ali.
Smithsonian secretary David Skorton said the president particularly enjoyed the exhibit. “He’s a big fan of fighting,’ said another official.
Lonnie Bunch told the reporters that that Trump also showed a keen interest in everything he saw, including Nat Turner’s Bible.
‘It was very nice. A nice educational thing. The kind of thing that I think helps bring people together,’ said Carson.
Trump was accompanied on his museum tour by White House official and former ‘Apprentice’ star Omarosa Manigault and Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary designee Ben Carson – who got to show the president an exhibit about his own medical achievements.
‘It was very special to accompany him and his family, for the first time seeing the Carson exhibit,’ Trump said. ‘I love this guy. He’s a great guy. Really, a great guy. We really started something with Ben. We’re very, very proud of him.’
Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who competed against Trump last year for the Republican nomination for president.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka also came along.
‘My wife was here last week and took a tour and it was something that she’s still talking about. Ivanka is here right now. Hi, Ivanka,’ the president said of his adult daughter in his remarks, earning a wave from Ivanka, who was standing behind him and to his left, next to King.
nomination for president. He and Trump are pictured in front of his museum exhibit
The Senate’s only black Republican, Tim Scott, was also present for Trump’s remarks. He stood on the other side of Ivanka.
Trump referred to him as ‘a friend of mine, a great, great senator from South Carolina.
‘I like the state of South Carolina. I like all those states where I won by double, double, double digits,’ Trump said. ‘And Tim has been fantastic how he represents the people, and they love him.’
The president had been planning a visit to the new Smithsonian museum on the National Mall before his inauguration that was delayed until Tuesday. President Barack Obama delivered remarks at the museum’s opening in September. He said Trump should also visit.
Today the sitting president, Trump, gave his predecessor a nod in his remarks from the museum today, saying he was ‘honored’ to be the second American president to come to the site.
‘This museum is a beautiful tribute to so many American heroes,’ he said. Trump said his tour was ‘not comprehensive enough,’ though, and promised, ‘I’ll be back.’
The president nodded as he toured some exhibits. Museum director Lonnie Bunch escorted him, while a museum official told him about Benjamin Banneker, a surveyor and former slave who helped lay out Washington, D.C. He also was joined by South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott.
He also heard about Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture, who led a bloody slave rebellion.
During a brief part of the tour where cameras were present, officials could be hold describing slave shackles on display in the museum.
The group was escorted by founding director of the museum Lonnie Bunch and secretary of the Smithsonian David Skorton.
Bunch told the president’s group that the museum was about ‘humanizing people that have been left out of history.’
Trump said his tour was ‘not comprehensive enough,’ though, and promised, ‘I’ll be back’
Trump won election after a heated campaign where rival Hillary Clinton accused him of making racist comments.
The president defended himself as recently as last week, when he got a question about why he hadn’t spoken out about harassment as synagogues.
‘Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,’ Trump said. ‘Number two, racism, the least racist person.’
The president told MSNBC today that the fake bomb threats on Jewish community centers are ‘just terrible.’
‘And you don’t know where it’s coming from, but I certainly hope they catch the people,’ the president said. ‘I think you maybe have had it for longer than people think, and maybe it gets brought up a little bit more.’
Trump earlier this month gave an odd remark at the White House early this month where he spoke about black statesman Frederick Douglass in a tense that made it unclear if he realized Douglass, a US minister to Haiti, was no longer alive.
‘I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things,’ Trump said.
‘Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.’
He had a chance to study up on Tuesday.
The president walked through an underground gallery that recounts the history of slavery and features objects from a slave ship that went down off the coast of southern Africa.
American History and Culture in Washington, DC
At one point, Bunch talked about a statue of Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who penned some of the most stirring calls for liberty in the declaration of Independence. The statue sits near an exhibit titled ‘The paradox of liberty’.
Behind the statue is a wall made of bricks – with each brick bearing the name of a slave Jefferson owned.
Trump listened and nodded his head while being instructed about the exhibits.
Ivanka Trump viewed glass cases with objects from Jefferson’s estate which is not far from a Trump-owned winery near Charlottesville.
She and Omarosa looked on as Bunch mentioned ‘actual shackles.’
The group also viewed a bible belonging to Nat Turner, who led a bloody and unsuccessful slave rebellion in the U.S.