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Black Lawmakers In Virginia Boycott Trump's Speech Marking Jamestown Anniversary

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump was in Jamestown, Va., today to mark 400 years of American democracy. His speech was boycotted by most of Virginia's Democrats and all of its black lawmakers. They were protesting how Trump has spoken out about lawmakers of color. The president this weekend lashed out at Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings and his city of Baltimore. Here is Ben Paviour of member station WCVE.

BEN PAVIOUR, BYLINE: Trump began his morning attacking Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, the committee that has launched a series of investigations into his administration. The president claimed without evidence that the majority-black city of Baltimore was corrupt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Billions and billions of dollars have been given to Baltimore. It's been misspent. It's been missing. It's been stolen.

PAVIOUR: A short trip later and Trump was in a giant air-conditioned tent in Jamestown about a mile from where Virginia's Assembly met on a sweltering day 400 years ago. Those early representatives were all white landholders. The first enslaved Africans arrived on a trade ship a few weeks later. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Trump said African Americans had faced centuries of cruelty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: In the face of grave oppression and grave injustice, African Americans have built, strengthened, inspired, uplifted, protected, defended and sustained our nation from its very earliest days.

PAVIOUR: Those words rang hollow to a young Muslim American Democrat who represents Northern Virginia in the state legislature. In protest of Trump's speech, Ibraheem Samirah stood up and shouted over the president. He was escorted out to chants from some audience members.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: (Chanting) Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.

PAVIOUR: Most Democrats sat out Trump's speech, and Virginia's legislative black caucus boycotted the event entirely. They spent the morning in Richmond at the site of the old Lumpkin's Jail, what was once an infamous holding area for slaves and is now a grassy lot. Their goal was to recognize black Virginians' contributions over the last 400 years. Democratic Delegate Marcia Price said Trump's comments toward black politicians made him the wrong choice for today's event.

MARCIA PRICE: So this to me was a protest against someone who has both in word and policy stood against my very existence. And when you tell someone that looks like me, a group of women that look like me, that they should go back to where they came from - I'm from Newport News, Va.

PAVIOUR: Republican lawmakers said Democrats missed a chance to put partisanship aside and celebrate a messy experiment that began in a sweaty chapel in Jamestown in 1619.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Paviour in Jamestown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.