Pres­i­dent’s com­ments viewed as at odds with King’s legacy

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Er­rin Haines Whack

AT­LANTA >> The first Martin Luther King Jr. hol­i­day of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency is tak­ing place amid a ra­cial firestorm of Trump’s own mak­ing.

In the same week that he took sev­eral ac­tions hon­or­ing King, Trump den­i­grated prac­ti­cally the en­tire African di­as­pora, and left many Amer­i­cans headed into the civil rights icon’s birth­day con­vinced that the leader of their coun­try is a racist. Barely a year ago, Amer­ica’s first black pres­i­dent, Barack Obama, marked his fi­nal King Day in of­fice with his usual com­mu­nity ser­vice; now, his suc­ces­sor is pre­sid­ing over a ra­cial back­lash the coun­try has hardly seen in more than a gen­er­a­tion. Trump has de­nied be­ing racist, la­bel­ing him­self the “least racist per­son there is” dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign. Some of his ac­tions lead­ing up to this year’s fed­eral hol­i­day hon­or­ing King’s birth seemed to be an at­tempt to live up to that.

He be­gan last week by des­ig­nat­ing the his­toric site around King’s At­lanta birth home as a na­tional park. At week’s end, Trump signed a King hol­i­day procla­ma­tion with the mar­tyred ac­tivist’s nephew at his side.

But in be­tween, the pres­i­dent sat in a White House meet­ing on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and ex­pressed a pref­er­ence for im­mi­grants from Nor­way, a ma­jor­ity white na­tion, over Haiti and Africa. This is the type of thing, ac­tivists, re­li­gious lead­ers and schol­ars say, that puts Trump’s pres­i­dency in di­rect con­flict with the legacy of King, who was as­sas­si­nated April 4, 1968. King’s daugh­ter, the Rev. Ber­nice King, will be the key­note speaker at the com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice hon­or­ing her fa­ther at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church in At­lanta. She said she hopes he will ob­serve the hol­i­day. “This is what I would like Pres­i­dent Trump to do: Don’t let the King Hol­i­day find you us­ing your Twit­ter ac­count in an in­ap­pro­pri­ate way,” Ber­nice King said. “If he can dare to do that, I would be proud on that day that our pres­i­dent hon­ored Dr. King by not do­ing things that are of­fen­sive.” King’s son, Martin Luther King III, met with Trump on the last King hol­i­day, four days be­fore Trump took of­fice. He spoke to the then-pres­i­dent-elect about the im­por­tance of vot­ing rights — only to see Trump es­tab­lish a now-de­funct com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate voter fraud, which some saw as a move to in­tim­i­date mi­nor­ity vot­ers.

“I would like to be­lieve that the pres­i­dent’s in­ten­tions are not to be di­vi­sive, but much of what he says seems or feels to be di­vi­sive,” King III said Fri­day. “It would be won­der­ful to have a pres­i­dent who talked about bring­ing Amer­ica to­gether and ex­hib­ited that, who was in­volved in do­ing a so­cial project … that would show hu­mil­ity.”

Civil rights lead­ers said the pres­i­dent’s com­ments are not new, but are the most re­cent and glar­ing proof of Trump’s views, and shock­ing to the point that con­gres­sional lead­ers and Amer­i­cans can no longer ig­nore his big­otry.

“The Trump era … is a di­rect as­sault on the legacy of Dr. King,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pas­tor of Ebenezer, where King preached for the last eight years of his life. “The con­ver­sa­tion about who we are as Amer­i­cans has shifted and given in to a kind of xeno­pho­bia that makes it dif­fi­cult to dis­cuss is­sues that af­fect all Amer­i­cans.”


Ber­nice King, daugh­ter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at the King Cen­ter for Non­vi­o­lent So­cial Change in At­lanta, said she hoped the pres­i­dent would re­frain from do­ing any­thing of­fen­sive on Mon­day’s hol­i­day hon­or­ing her fa­ther.

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