Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina state employees remembered the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a message of love Friday, 24 hours after inflammatory comments from President Donald J. Trump again ignited racial tensions across the country.
Reverend Dumas Harshaw offered the invocation. “Lord, we’ve gathered today to take a stand against hate and know that it cannot be driven out but by love,” he said.
Harshaw and other speakers, including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, did not directly mention the president’s comments, but the remarks were on the minds of those in the gathering.
During an Oval Office meeting on Thursday afternoon, Trump, in a discussion about immigration, asked “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Sources told both CNN and the Washington Post that Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin was running through a proposal listing countries that would be covered by Temporary Protected Status for some immigrants in exchange for ending the visa lottery. The person said when Durbin got to Haiti, Trump began to ask why we want people from Haiti in the US and asked why we want more Africans.
Reached for comment about the article, White House spokesperson Raj Shah did not deny the “shithole” remark, but instead said in a statement that Trump “is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
“It’s unfortunate that the leader of our country refers to other people and other places in such a derogatory way,” said Mike Silver, who attended the Raleigh event with his 4-year-old daughter.
From the dias, speaker after speaker returned to the theme of using light to drive out darkness.
“We are living in extraordinary times,” Cooper said. “Too often we see leaders trying to divide us instead of trying to unite us, calling people names instead of calling for justice.”
The allusion to Trump was clear to retired state worker Missy Brayboy, who said the president’s remarks were like a return to the 1960s.
“We had our civil rights movement, but it didn’t really get rid of racism. It just covered it up,” Brayboy said. “Now it’s coming back again, and it’s a very, very shocking thing. It’s very painful. It’s very hurtful.”
State employee Ebony Mouzone sang in the choir at the event. She said her concerns about Trump go beyond mere words.
“Not only are these remarks, these are things that he is clearly moving to enact into policy,” she said. “So it’s alarming and shocking, and we really have to mobilize to push back against that.
Monday’s federal and state King holiday falls on the day the slain civil rights leader was born 89 years ago.