After widespread speculation on whether Donald Trump would actually address an African-American congregation in Detroit, the Republican presidential nominee dutifully delivered Saturday, making a pitch to churchgoers that included a “civil rights agenda for our time” and a pledge to return economic prosperity to the city.
Trump, taking the stage at the Great Faith Ministries International church after a boisterous Saturday service, stuck largely to a script in presenting his speech to the congregation.
Noting the importance of African-American churches in the country, Trump opened his address by calling them the “conscience of our country.”
“It’s from the pews and pulpits and Christian teachings of black churches all across this land that the civil rights movement lifted up its soul and lifted up the soul of our nation,” said Trump.
“I will always support your church always. Always,” he added. “And defend your right to worship. So important. I am here today to listen to your message and I hope my presence here will help your voice reach new audiences in our country.”
Trump attended the church service after a closed-door interview with the church’s pastor, Bishop Wayne Johnson. Surrounded by a coterie of African-American surrogates -- including former primary rival Ben Carson, spokeswoman Katrina Pierson and reality television star Omarosa Manigault -- Trump swayed to the beat of gospel songs Saturday morning before he addressed the congregation directly.
Invoking Abraham Lincoln in his speech, Trump outlined the case for his presidential campaign and stated his general belief in a “civil rights agenda” centered on education, safety and job growth.
“Becoming the nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln -- a lot of people don’t realize Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln, was a Republican -- has been the greatest honor of my life,” Trump said. “It is on his legacy that I hope to build the future of the party, but more important, the future of the country and the community.”
“I believe we need a civil rights agenda for our time,” he continued, “one that ensures the rights to a great education. So important. And the right to live in safety and in peace and have a really, really great job -- a good-paying job and one that you love to go to every morning.”
Trump, whose campaign ties to white nationalist groups have drawn significant backlash, went on to say that he empathized with the plight of the black community in America today.
“I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination,” Trump said. “And that there are many wrongs that must still be made right. They will be made right.”
And in Detroit, where the manufacturing sector has seen an uptick after significant investments by President Obama’s administration, the real estate mogul laid out his own vision for the recovering city, though he avoided revealing specifics for his plan.
“I want to make America prosperous for everyone,” Trump said. “I want to make this city the economic envy of the world. We can do that, we can do that again.”
“Factories everywhere, new roads and bridges, new schools -- especially schools -- and new hope,” he said.
Of his speech, Trump claimed that he “just wrote this the other day, knowing I’d be here -- and I mean it from the heart.”
He added: “I’d like to just read it and I think you’ll understand it maybe better than I do in certain ways.”
Trump concluded his address with a quote from the Bible’s Gospel of John.
“’No one has ever seen God,’” Trump recited, quoting from “first John, chapter four.” “’But if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ And that’s so true.”
At the end of the speech, Trump was presented with an Israeli prayer shawl by the church’s Bishop Wayne Johnson.
Trump’s visit to Detroit was the culmination of several days of reaching out to the black community, following a stop in Philadelphia on Friday where he hosted a roundtable of African-American faith, civic and business leaders.
But despite his recent efforts, Trump’s support among African-American voters remains scant after a lengthy primary campaign targeting and demonizing minorities in the U.S. Trump’s 11th-hour pitch to the black community, then, has been seen by some as a flat-footed attempt to woo a constituency already lost to the Republican Party.
The campaign even faced some resistance to their presence in Detroit on Saturday, with groups of protesters gathering outside the church ahead of the nominee’s visit.
A crowd of a few hundred demonstrators criticized Trump’s visit, with some holding “Clinton-Kaine” signs and “No Hate In The White House” placards. They protested peacefully with loud chants of “No Trump! No Trump!”
Trump later toured parts of Detroit with Carson by his side, stopping by the retired neurosurgeon’s childhood home for a brief visit.