ATLANTA (AP) — They had gathered to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., but many of those who delivered speeches on the national holiday created to honor the slain civil rights leaders focused their remarks on another man: President Donald Trump.
Two of King’s children, the pastor of the Atlanta church where King once preached, and the Rev. Al Sharpton were among those on Monday who indicated that the Trump presidency was undermining efforts to ease racial tensions in the U.S. And they sharply criticized disparaging remarks about African countries and Haiti he is said to have made last week.
Trump marked his first Martin Luther King Jr. Day as president buffeted by claims that during the meeting with senators on immigration last Thursday, he questioned why the U.S. is accepting more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa when it should be welcoming more people from nations like Norway.
Trump has denied saying “anything derogatory” about Haitians, and said he did not use the vulgar language that has been reported. And his weekly address to the nation, released Monday, was dedicated 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,” he said. “It is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from.”
His words appeared to do little to assuage the anger of pro-Haiti protesters who gathered down the street from the president’s Florida retreat — or soften the criticism unleashed from podiums and pulpits across the nation on what would have been King’s 89th birthday.
“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,” King’s eldest son, Martin Luther III, said Monday in Washington. “We got to find a way to work on this man’s heart.”
In Atlanta, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, told hundreds of people who packed the pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where her father once preached that they “cannot allow the nations of the world to embrace the words that come from our president as a reflection of the true spirit of America.”
“We are one people, one nation, one blood, one destiny. … All of civilization and humanity originated from the soils of Africa,” Bernice King said. “Our collective voice in this hour must always be louder than the one who sometimes does not reflect the legacy of my father.”
Church pastor the Rev. Raphael Warnock also took issue with Trump’s campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again.”
Warnock said he thinks America “is already great … in large measure because of Africa and African people.”
Down the street, Monday from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, Haitian protesters and Trump supporters yelled at each other from opposing corners. Trump was staying at the resort for the holiday weekend.
Video posted by WPEC-TV showed several hundred pro-Haiti demonstrators yelling from one side of the street Monday while waving Haitian flags. The Haitians and their supporters shouted, “Our country is not a shithole.”
The smaller pro-Trump contingent waved American 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 New York, the Rev. Al Sharpton and a host of Democratic politicians took aim at Trump in their comments before a crowd of 200 at the National Action Network in Harlem.
“Our outrage, our activism, is more important now than it’s ever been,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.