President Trump took credit for making Juneteenth “famous,” acknowledged there was “some” systemic racism in the country and said taking the names of Confederate soldiers off US military bases would split the country apart, in a wide-ranging interview published on Thursday.
The president said a black Secret Service agent told him the meaning of Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the commemoration of the end of slavery, after Trump had initially scheduled his return to the campaign trail for the first time in months at a rally in Tulsa, Ok., for that day.
He had faced criticism from African-American leaders for holding the political rally on Juneteenth, especially in Tulsa, where in 1921 mobs of white residents massacred black people in a commercial district known as the black Wall Street.
Trump eventually rescheduled the rally for Saturday after, he said, his “African-American friends and supporters” asked him to reschedule it “out of respect.”
“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal in the interview. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
The president said he asked those around him in the White House if they had heard of Juneteenth, but none had.
The newspaper noted that his White House put out statements on Juneteenth every year he was in office.
“Oh really? We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement?” Trump said. “Ok, ok. Good.”
Juneteenth is observed as a state or ceremonial holiday in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Addressing the condition of race relations in the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Trump said the situation in the US is not as bad as it once was.
“I’d like to think there is not systemic racism, but unfortunately, there probably is some. I would also say it’s very substantially less than it used to be,” he said.
Asked about the movement to rename 10 Army bases that honor Confederate generals, which has grown since Floyd’s killing on May 25, Trump said he hadn’t discussed it with his black supporters, but is against the effort.
He insisted they were named after the Confederate soldiers in an effort to reunite the North and South.
“And now you’re going to take them off? You’re going to bring people apart,” Trump said.
Speaking of the Tulsa rally, Trump said, “it’s going to be a hell of a night.”
Criticized for holding a political event inside a closed arena with thousands of people, the Trump campaign said it will do temperature checks and provide masks and hand sanitizer for those attending, but won’t require they wear the masks.
Trump shrugged off the possibility that the rally may spread the disease, saying “a very small percentage” may become infected.
He also repeated his belief that masks aren’t an effective way to stay safe, arguing that people play with the face coverings too much.
“They put their finger on the mask, and they take them off, and then they start touching their eyes and touching their nose and their mouth,” Trump said. “And then they don’t know how they caught it?”
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