The timing was particularly unfortunate: As Americans prepared to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., President-elect Donald Trump tore into one of the civil rights movement’s most iconic figures. Trump — who drew only 8% of the black vote in the general election last November — appeared to hit a new low in his already fraught relationship with the black community. After Rep. John Lewis questioned his legitimacy in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump dismissed the “Big Six” leader, who was brutally beaten and repeatedly imprisoned as he protested for voting rights alongside King in 1965, as “all talk” and “no action.”
The president-elect also described Lewis’ district, which includes the Atlanta metro area, as “crime-infested.” Trump has been roundly criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for the remarks. The president-elect’s defenders, including spokesman Sean Spicer and Vice President Mike Pence, have argued that he had a right to respond to someone who had insulted him. For many African-Americans, the tone and timing of Trump’s response — over the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend — showed a startling lack of respect and reverence for Lewis, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and a “Big Six” leader of the civil rights movement who was brutally beaten and repeatedly imprisoned as a young man protesting for voting rights alongside King in 1965.