JAMESTOWN, Va. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, under fire in Washington for verbal attacks on racial minority lawmakers, condemned American slavery on Tuesday at the 400th anniversary of the first legislative assembly in Virginia.
Trump gave a scripted speech at the site of the first legislative assembly in Jamestown, Virginia, after touring the Jamestown church and a mock 1619 village.
In his remarks, he honored the first people to form a government in what would become the United States but also recognized their importation of slaves in 1619 in the same region.
“It was the beginning of a barbaric trade of human lives,” he said. “Today in honor, we remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage.”
Trump’s comments, in which he also honored African-Americans’ contributions to U.S. history and quoted civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Junior, followed two weeks of incendiary remarks about four Democratic women of color in the U.S. House of Representatives and an African-American lawmaker, Elijah Cummings, all of whom have been sharp critics of the president.
Trump has blasted Cummings for not doing more to improve the plight of Baltimore, a largely black city, which he said is rodent-infested. Trump has faced accusations of racism and bigotry for the remarks.
Virginia’s black state legislators had said they would boycott Trump’s appearance after his harsh comments about the minority members of Congress. A statement from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said it was “impossible to ignore the emblem of hate and disdain that the president represents” while he continues to “promulgate policies that harm marginalized communities and use racist and xenophobic rhetoric.”
Trump kept up the criticism in a tweet ahead of his visit to Jamestown.
“Heading to Jamestown, Virginia. Word is the Democrats will make it as uncomfortable as possible, but that’s ok because today is not about them!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump’s address in Jamestown was interrupted briefly by a protester who shouted and held up a sign that said, “Go back to your corrupted home. Deport hate. Reunite my family and all those shattered by systemic discrimination.”
It was an apparent reference to Trump’s policies aimed at limiting illegal immigration along the southern border with Mexico.