WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump touted contributions made by African Americans, referenced the 2020 election and pointed to historically low black unemployment at a White House event Thursday to celebrate Black History Month.
'From the earliest days of this nation, African American leaders, pioneers and visionaries have uplifted and inspired our country," Trump said in the White House East Room.
Trump's remarks come at a time when racial divisions in the U.S. have once again flared following revelations that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook featured a person wearing blackface. A USA TODAY review of 900 yearbooks from the 1970s and 1980s found more than 200 examples of offensive or racist material.
Trump didn't mention Northam, nor did he discuss another story with racial overtones splashed across cable television Thursday. Actor Jussie Smollett was arrested for staging a hoax attack in which the faux perpetrators were anti-black, homophobic Trump supporters. Smollett, who was charged with filing a false police report, initially told investigators his "attackers" yelled Trump campaign slogans.
Trump, who has struggled to win political support from African American voters, frequently touts low black unemployment during his tenure. Black unemployment last month rose slightly to 6.8 percent. The president used the White House event to focus on the economy and pointed to the passage last year of criminal justice reform.
"How do they beat us on the debate stand?" Trump said, referring to upcoming debates for the next election. "We've got a lot of things going on here."
The president has at times stoked racial tensions, reportedly using a disparaging term to describe Haiti and African nations and once asserting there were "very fine people on both sides" of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. But the president steered clear of controversy in his remarks Thursday.
"As Americans we all share the same dreams, the same hopes and the same magnificent destiny," Trump said.