Trump's Attack on Rep. John Lewis Spotlights Tenuous Relationship With African-Americans

Donald Trump has once again offended many black Americans.

ByABC News
January 16, 2017, 5:07 PM

— -- Donald Trump's attack on Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, this weekend has rekindled the perception among many critics that the president-elect has done little to improve his standing among black voters, who consistently gave him single-digit approval ratings during the presidential campaign.

After a Friday interview in which Lewis said Trump was not the “legitimate” president because of alleged Russian interference in the election, Trump responded on Twitter Saturday, writing that Lewis “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

The Twitter posts, two days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, prompted an outcry and renewed doubts about any Trump efforts to improve relations with African-Americans.

When asked about Trump's appeals to black voters during the end of the campaign, for instance, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton told ABC News in August that "the facts don't speak to" Trump's being genuine about his appeal to black voters.

"I think that the appeal is based on the assumption that black people are stupid," Sharpton said.

Outreach as President-Elect

One of the most visible ways Trump has tried to broaden his outreach in recent weeks has been by inviting people from various communities to high-profile meetings at Trump Tower in New York City.

From international business leaders and tech giants to leading Democrats and entertainers, many of these people sat with him in private meetings before or after passing a cluster of reporters in his New York tower lobby. He has also met with a number of prominent African-Americans , including Kanye West, Steve Harvey and Martin Luther King III, whom Trump sat with this afternoon.

PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Ben Carson as he attends a church service in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Ben Carson as he attends a church service in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.

But after making few direct appeals to black urban voters during the campaign, Trump picked only one African-American to include in his cabinet: former foe Dr. Ben Carson, who is his selection to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Another high-profile staffing announcement harkens back to Trump’s reality-TV days. Omarosa Manigault, who shot to fame as part of Trump's reality show, “The Apprentice,” was named the director of African-American outreach for the Trump campaign during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, and she will follow Trump to the White House after being offered the role of public liaison.

PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.

Talking Points From the Trail

While Trump has made some public overtures to Africa-American voters in the form of appointments and meetings, the tweets bashing Lewis appear to share a theme with some of his frequent campaign references.

Trump often equated African-American communities and “inner cities,” even though data show otherwise. From 2010 to 2014, about 39 percent of African-Americans — whether rich, middle income or poor — lived in the suburbs, and 36 percent live in cities, according to Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program who relied on U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data.

The remaining 25 percent are spread across small metropolitan and rural communities, the data show.

And when Trump referenced "inner cities" in his speeches about African-Americans, he often painted a grim picture.

"We are going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever," Trump said at a rally in Kenansville, North Carolina, in September.

He also said, "You take a look at the inner cities, you get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street,” which Trump echoed this weekend with references to Lewis’ congressional district, which includes both affluent and impoverished areas, as being in “horrible shape and falling apart.”

Many people took offense to the September campaign remark in particular, with President Obama out in front.

"You may have heard Hillary's opponent in the election say that there's never been a worse time to be a black person. He missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow," Obama said in an address to the Congressional Black Caucus in September after Trump's comment.

Trump also triggered controversy when he mentioned black youth unemployment in his stump speeches, claiming multiple times that 58 percent are out of work. His campaign has told ABC News that he based the number on 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics data and included not only 16- to 24-year-old black Americans who were unemployed, but also those whom the federal government didn’t count in the labor force, which likely included a number of full-time students not seeking work.

Public Outreach During the Campaign

Trump made a handful of campaign stops directly aimed at African-American voters, including his first visit to a black church in Detroit in September alongside Carson where he delivered a message of unity that included a call to address economic challenges in the black community.

He then later visited another black church in Flint, Michigan, but was scolded by the pastor when he started to condemn Hillary Clinton. Trump later called the female pastor "a nervous mess."

PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault attend a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Omarosa Manigault attend a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 3, 2016.

He declined several invitations to speak to groups such as the NAACP, the Urban League and a joint conference of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

When asked in August about Trump’s decisions to skip those events, Manigault pointed out that the NAACP event was scheduled for the same day as the start of the RNC, so Trump “made the difficult decision” to skip the conference in favor of being in Cleveland to hear his wife, Melania Trump, address the crowd.

“Certainly he should have an opportunity to address the bodies of those organizations, but it’s not the only opportunity,” Manigault said of the declined invitations.”

Trump also held meetings with groups of African-American pastors, most of whom became part of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump.

In the end, he did get 8 percent of the African-American vote in the presidential election.

Pre-Campaign Clashes

Even before entering the political fray, Trump had public run-ins with the African-American community.

The first came in 1973, five years after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Trump was deeply involved in the family’s New York City real estate business when the Justice Department filed a housing discrimination suit against Donald Trump, father Fred and their real estate management corporation.

The civil suit claimed the Trump management corporation – of which Donald Trump was president – had been “discriminating against black persons in the operation of their buildings,” according to the DOJ's news release on the date of the filing, Oct. 15, 1973.

The Trumps “vigorously deny said allegations,” the court document states.

The agreement, which laid out the specific terms that the Trumps would have to abide by moving forward, noted that it was “in no way an admission by it of a violation of the prohibition against discrimination.”

The complaint against Fred Trump and Donald Trump was “dismissed against them in their personal capacity, with prejudice.”

Later, in 1989, Trump inserted himself in the controversial Central Park Five case, in which five minority teens were accused of brutally attacking a white woman.

Trump paid for open letters to be published in four major New York-area papers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in connection to the case and painting a stark picture of life in the city amid a diminished police force.

All five of the accused -- four of whom are African American and one is Hispanic -- made various confessions, which later came under review, and were convicted on differing combinations of charges — including rape, robbery, attempted murder, assault and riot — and served time. In 2002, the five were exonerated after an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office. Another man confessed to the crime.

The Central Park Five case came up during last year’s campaign, when in October Trump reiterated his suggestion that he still believed the five were guilty.

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