“This museum is a beautiful tribute to so many American heroes,” Trump said after his tour. “It’s amazing to see. We did a pretty comprehensive tour, but not comprehensive enough.”
The president vowed to return, and added that he was “honored to be the second sitting president to visit this great museum.” Former president Barack Obama was the first.
Others who joined Trump on the tour included Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), one of three African Americans in the Senate, and Alveda King, a niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump also was on the tour, which was led by Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director.
Shortly after arriving, President Trump was led through an underground gallery that recounts the history of slavery and includes objects from a slave ship that sank off southern Africa.
Trump also saw an exhibit, titled “The Paradox of Liberty,” featuring Thomas Jefferson and slaves he owned. He also saw as a statue of Benjamin Banneker, a free African American who wrote to Jefferson challenging the injustice of slavery.
Trump and his entourage paused at a glass case containing a bible belonging to Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831.
The group later arrived at the exhibit dedicated to Carson, which carried this caption: “Ben Carson, thinking big. Dr. Benjamin Carson (b. 1951) overcame poverty and failing grades to become one of the world's most distinguished pediatric neurosurgeons.”
First lady Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the Israeli prime minister, toured the museum last week.
As a presidential candidate, Trump tried to court the black vote in part by arguing that Democrats had taken African Americans for granted and asking, “What the hell do you have to lose?” Trump also pledged to rebuild inner cities and expand school choice.
Trump often touts his performance among African Americans last year, saying he exceeded expectations.
Exit polls showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly won African American votes over Trump, 89 percent to 8 percent. In 2012, exit polls showed that then-President Obama garnered 93 percent of the black vote compared with 6 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Trump also marked Black History Month earlier the month with a gathering at the White House of African American aides and campaign supporters.
That event produced an awkward moment, when Trump cited Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and former slave who died in 1895, as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
Trump’s interactions with African Americans also came under scrutiny after an exchange during a news conference with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks.
Trump asked Ryan, the only black reporter he called on, if she could arrange a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, asking her: “Are they friends of yours?”