By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump marked his first Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday Monday largely out of sight, buffeted by accusations that he used a racially tinged word to describe African countries and scoffed at the suggestion of admitting more Haitians to the U.S.
Trump decamped to his Florida estate for the long weekend, spending hours each day at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach.
On Friday, before he departed the White House, Trump encouraged the public “to observe this day with acts of civic work and community service in honor of Dr. King’s extraordinary life … and his great legacy” as he signed a proclamation recognizing Monday as the national holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. King’s family also urges the public to observe the holiday by performing civic work and acts of kindness.
Trump dedicated his weekly address to the nation, released Monday, to King.
“Dr. King’s dream is our dream, it is the American dream, it’s the promise stitched into the fabric of our nation, etched into the hearts of our people and written into the soul of humankind,” Trump said in the address, which he tweeted out to his followers.
“It is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from,” the president said.
Trump’s tribute followed the firestorm that erupted last week after he was accused of using the word “shithole” to describe African countries and seeming to balk at admitting more Haitians to the U.S. He voiced a desire for more immigrants from countries like Norway. Trump is said to have made the comments in the Oval Office during a meeting about immigration with a bipartisan group of senators.
The White House has not denied that Trump used the vulgarity, but Trump and some Republicans have disputed public accounts of the meeting.
Trump defended himself Sunday night, declaring that “I’m not a racist.” He said comments attributed to him “weren’t made.”
The president’s defense appeared not to sway the sizable crowd of Haitians — waving their country’s flag — who gathered near the foot of a bridge leading to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach to jeer at Trump as the motorcade returned from the golf club.
The Haitians and their supporters shouted, “Our country is not a shithole,” according to video posted by WPEC-TV, and engaged in a shouting match with the pro-Trump demonstrators who typically gather on the other side of the street.
The smaller pro-Trump contingent waved U.S. flags and campaign posters and yelled, “Trump is making America great again.” One man could be seen telling the Haitians to leave the country. Police kept the sides apart.
In Washington, King’s elder son, Martin Luther King III, criticized Trump, saying, “When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don’t even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is.”
He added, “We got to find a way to work on this man’s heart.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence, who worshipped at a Baptist church in Maryland on Sunday, listened as the pastor denounced Trump’s use of the vulgarity.
Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, called the remark “dehumanizing” and “ugly” and said “whoever made such a statement … is wrong and they ought to be held accountable.” Worshippers stood and applauded as Watson spoke. He didn’t name Trump, but his reference was unmistakable.
Trump’s low-key King holiday contrasts with how some of his recent predecessors observed the day.
President Barack Obama and his family performed community service. President George W. Bush accepted a portrait of King for display in the White House from his widow, Coretta Scott King, in 2002.
Trump has appeared with King relatives in the run-up to Monday’s holiday.
Isaac Newton Farris Jr., a nephew, was among the group that attended Friday’s proclamation signing.
Last week in Atlanta, Trump invited King’s niece, Alveda King, aboard Air Force One to watch him sign a bill expanding an existing historic site in the Georgia capital that is dedicated to King. The site includes King’s childhood home and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached. Trump had flown to Atlanta to attend the college football championship game between Georgia and Alabama.
Trump also keeps a bust of King on display in the Oval Office.
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