As Americans celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leaders and activists are trying to reconcile the transition from the nation’s first Black president to a president-elect still struggling to connect with most non-White voters.
In more than one venue Monday, speakers and attendees expressed reservations about President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration, some even raising the specter of the Ku Klux Klan.
“When men no better than Klansmen dressed in suits are being sworn in to office, we cannot be silent,” said Opal Tometi, a Black Lives Matter co-founder, told a crowd in Brooklyn.
King’s daughter offered a less direct message, encouraging 2,000 people at her father’s Atlanta church to work for his vision of love and justice “no matter who is in the White House.”
Bernice King spoke at Ebenezer Baptist hours before her brother, Martin Luther King III, met privately with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York. The younger King described the meeting as “productive.”
Trump won fewer than 1 out of 10 Black voters in November after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric, and tensions have flared anew with his recent criticism of civil rights icon John Lewis, whom the president-elect called “all talk” and “no action.”
Bernice King avoided a detailed critique of Trump, but said the nation has a choice between “chaos and community,” a dichotomy her father preached about. “At the end of the day, the Donald Trumps come and go,” she said, later adding, “We still have to find a way to create … the beloved community.”
The current Ebenezer pastor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, did not call Trump by name, but praised his predecessor. “Thank you, Barack Obama,” he said. “I’m sad to see you go.”
In New York, Martin Luther King III spoke briefly with reporters after a meeting with Trump at Trump Towers. Trump pledged to be a president for all Americans, but King III added “we also have to consistently engage with pressure, public pressure” because “it doesn’t happen automatically.”
The oldest son of the civil rights leader trekked to Trump Tower amid renewed tensions between the incoming president and African Americans over Trump’s weekend twitter attack on another civil rights icon, Georgia Congressman John Lewis. King told reporters his conversation with Trump focused on boosting voting rights for those who feel their freedoms are under threat.
“We did have a very constructive meeting,” said King, who arrived at Trump Tower on the U.S. holiday honoring his father. Trump has said that he is going to represent all Americans and “I believe that is his intent,” King added.
Trump didn’t take questions from reporters following the meeting.
Trump did not participate publicly in any Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama took part in a service project at a shelter in Washington.
Portions of this story were written by Bill Barrow of the Associated Press, along with Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, and Jonathan Lemire and Julie Walker in New York.
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