US President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Martin Luther King III after meeting at Trump Tower in New York City on January 16, 2017. The eldest son of American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. met with US President-elect on the national holiday observed in remembrance of his late father. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER
President-elect Donald Trump on Monday praised Martin Luther King Jr as a “great man” and met with his eldest son on the US holiday honoring the slain civil rights icon, amid a brewing spat with one of King’s close collaborators, John Lewis.
The meeting — just days before Trump takes office swearing — appeared to be an effort by the Republican to reach out to the black community amid his public stand-off with Lewis, a high-profile lawmaker who has questioned the legitimacy of the US presidential election and vowed to boycott the inauguration.
“Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for,” Trump tweeted prior to the meeting. “Honor him for being the great man that he was!”
Martin Luther King III deemed his Trump Tower meeting with the president-elect “constructive.”
“He said that he is going to represent Americans,” King III said. “He’s said that over and over again. We will continue to evaluate that.”
“I believe that’s his intent — I believe we have to consistently engage with pressure, public pressure.”
– ‘The heat of emotion’ –
In an interview on Friday, Lewis had cited what he dubbed Russian interference in the November 8 election as his reason to pass on the inauguration for the first time since he joined Congress in 1987.
“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” the Georgia lawmakers told NBC’s “Meet the Press” talk show.
On Saturday, Trump hit back at Lewis — one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders along with King who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, when King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Congressman John 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,” Trump said.
“All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”
When asked about the spat, King III — possibly trying to soothe tensions — said that “things get said on both sides in the heat of emotion.”
He did however defend Lewis: “Absolutely I would say John Lewis has demonstrated that he is action.”
Lewis — who was beaten while leading the Alabama civil rights march known as “Bloody Sunday” — is the most prominent of more than two dozen House Democrats now vowing to boycott Friday’s inauguration ceremony.
– Voting rights –
King III said he and the president-elect had touched on voting rights during their meeting, an issue that is known to disproportionately affect minority voters.
African-Americans have mainly been loyal Democratic voters for decades, and party officials believe that Republican governors are aiming to limit their turnout by creating controversial laws requiring voters to first show photo ID cards.
“The seminal right of the modern civil rights movement was the right to vote,” King’s son said. “My father fought so diligently for it.”
“It is very clear that the system is not working at its maximum.”
Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle, celebrated his last Martin Luther King Day as president by helping students paint a mural featuring the civil rights icon and butterflies.