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Trump makes pitch to 'forgotten' black Democrats in Atlanta

Tia Mitchell and Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

Payne, who teaches financial literacy, said when voters aren't engaged they just align with a party by default. "And if you're not looking at the other side and seeing what they're doing," she said, "do you really want to be represented by that?"

The event was nothing like the last time Trump appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center, when thousands of his supporters thronged a vast concrete ballroom in 2016 for a rally memorable in part because the lights briefly went out.

Friday's event was held in a far smaller room in the convention center and was open to only those who had invitations, leaving some of the president's backers waiting outside for a chance to see him speak.

It started with an excerpt of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a poem that's often referred to as the black national anthem, which caused a stir on social media with critics who called it disingenuous.

Trump was preceded by Vice President Mike Pence, who told the crowd of the sweep of black Republicans who were elected to office during the Reconstruction era and said that the GOP, from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower, has advocated for black Americans.

Then came U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only black member of Trump's Cabinet, who drew a rousing ovation when he told the crowd that if "Trump is a racist, he's an awfully bad one."

 

That contrasted with the message from Williams and other Democratic legislators, who blasted the president's play for black voters and said their party is best positioned to meet the needs of communities of color. The Rev. Timothy McDonald, a civil rights leader and pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, closed the news conference Friday morning with a scathing rebuke of Trump's latest effort to woo black voters.

"To launch a program that he thinks is going to cause black people to vote for him is outrageous, it is insane and it is a slap in the face of all Americans of goodwill," McDonald said. "This man's rhetoric and his agenda have taken our country backward, not forward, to a time when there was much pain that existed."

Although Trump's event targeted black voters, the audience was peppered with influential white politicians from Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, and U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Buddy Carter and Jody Hice were all in the building. Each was also singled out by Trump.

The crowd was also dotted with local black conservatives. Among the attendees was Herman Cain, the former presidential hopeful; Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Melvin Everson, a former state legislator.

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