(AFP) – Americans remembered civil rights hero Martin Luther King on his holiday Monday, a day after US President Donald Trump vehemently denied he is a racist amid an uproar over a reported slur.
The denial late Sunday came three days after Trump was quoted as calling African nations and Haiti “sh**hole countries,” setting off a storm of condemnation that threatened to derail a bipartisan compromise on immigration.
“I’m not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed,” Trump told reporters as he arrived at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida for dinner with Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
US President Donald Trump (R) speaks beside House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (L) at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Photo: AFP
Trump also denied, once again, making the offensive remarks attributed to him – despite the insistence of at least one senator that the president used the words repeatedly during a White House meeting on immigration Thursday.
The furor showed little sign of abating Monday, placing America’s troubled history of racism center stage – and not for the first time in Trump’s year-old presidency – on a national holiday honouring King.
Trump himself marked the day with a videotaped speech posted on Twitter that alluded to King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Dr. King’s dream is our dream. It is the American dream,” Trump said.
African American leaders, however, expressed deep concern about the direction of the nation.
Dr King’s example
Martin Luther King III, US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and others take part in a ceremony at the Martin Luther King Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Photo: AFP
The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Cornell Brooks, evoked “the eloquence of Dr. King’s example” in a tweet.
“While this is the first #MLKDay with an unrepentant & unreconstructed racist in the White House, we are neither intimidated by insult nor tweet – we are prayerful not fearful,” he said.
“I think this man, this president, is taking us back to another place,” said John Lewis, a Georgia congressman who marched with King in the 1960s.
“I think he is a racist,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Basketball star LeBron James said Trump’s example emboldened people with racist views.
“The guy in control has given people and racism… an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear. And that’s the fearful thing for us because it’s with you, and it’s around every day,” James said.
Marches around the US to commemorate King, which take place annually, took on special significance this year following Trump’s alleged slur against African countries and Haiti.
“Our president has shown exactly who he is by what he’s saying and, you know, people are not ignorant. You have to use your own mind, your own judgment as far as how you feel that he is,” said Michelle Toyer, who was marching in Washington.
Aiyi’nah Ford was more blunt: “I think he’s the epitome of racism, so many things. He’s a problem.”
Similar sentiments were expressed at marches in New York and Los Angeles while a small group of demonstrators waving Haitian flags faced off with Trump supporters in West Palm Beach.
Trump has sought to move off the defensive by accusing Democrats of sabotaging a bipartisan bid to reach a deal on immigration reform.
“We are ready, willing and able to make a deal but they don’t want to,” he said in a tweet Monday, quoting his own comments to reporters the night before.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country illegally as children – so-called “Dreamers” – face deportation unless a compromise can be reached that would grant them rights to stay.
Deal on ‘Dreamers’
Protesters waving the national flag of Haiti (R) look on near supporters of US President Donald Trump (L) as the president’s motorcade drives by in West Palm Beach, Florida . Photo: AFP
A bipartisan deal to resolve the Dreamers issue in return for changes demanded by Republicans in the way visas are allocated collapsed in acrimony Thursday over Trump’s remarks.
Certain Republicans have rallied behind Trump, casting doubt on what he said at the meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Senator David Purdue, a Republican from Georgia who attended the session, called charges that Trump is racist “ridiculous” and insisted reports on his remarks were a “gross misrepresentation.”
Purdue and another Republican participant, Senator Tom Cotton, had said previously they did not specifically recall Trump making the comments attributed to him.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democratic sponsor of the bipartisan deal on the Dreamers who was present at the meeting, said Trump made the quoted “sh**hole countries” remark not once, but repeatedly.
Schoolgirls march in Los Angeles where this year’s parade theme was “When They Go Low, We Go High,” inspired by a speech by former first lady Michelle Obama. Photo: AFP
Trump issued a fresh denial on Monday, saying: “Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”
DACA refers to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which has given legal status to Dreamers and protected them from deportation.
Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican participant, told fellow South Carolina Senator Tim Scott the media reports of the comments were “basically accurate,” according to The Post and Courier.