President Trump reportedly wished to have the new black history museum on the Mall closed for his private visit — on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III writes in his upcoming memoir that he had to refuse the extraordinary request from the incoming president in January 2017, The Washington Post reported over the weekend.
“The notion that we could shut out visitors on the first King holiday since the opening of the museum was not something I could accept,” Mr. Bunch wrote in his book “A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama and Trump,” according to The Post.
Mr. Trump eventually made his visit, accompanied by, among others, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and pro-life activist Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece.
According to Mr. Bunch’s book, the visit went poorly as Mr. Trump “was in a foul mood and … did not want to see anything ‘difficult.’ ” Among other things, when shown material on the Dutch role in the global slave trade Mr. Trump replied, “You know, they love me in the Netherlands.”
“All I could say was ‘let’s continue walking,’ ” Mr. Bunch wrote.
“There is little I remember about the rest of the hour we spent together. I was so disappointed in his response to one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history,” Mr. Bunch’s book continued. “Here was a chance to broaden the views and the understanding of the incoming president and I had been less successful than I had expected.”
The recollections of Sean Spicer, then the White House press secretary and also present for the Feb. 21 tour, were that the incoming administration requested a date before the King holiday, precisely to minimize public disruption. He also told The Post the president was engaged, most especially on the museum’s section on Mr. Carson’s medical career. Mr. Bunch’s book also says the president was taken by the material on Muhammad Ali.
“The president and I shared our stories about Ali and what he meant to America,” wrote Mr. Bunch, who was the black history museum’s founding director from 2005 to earlier this summer, when he became the Smithsonian’s secretary.
In an interview with The Post, Mr. Bunch also reined in some of the criticism of the president made in his book, which was written last year.
In the book, he accuses Mr. Trump of deepening racial divides, citing his “combative relationship with many in the African American community” and his purported “refusal to criticize the white supremacists … rioting in Charlottesville.”
“There is no doubt in my mind there were things he learned, engaged with,” he told The Post about the visit described in the book. “What I hope is that the Smithsonian can play that role in a time of partisanship and division. I’m not saying who caused it, but the reality is, it’s a different time. And so I just want us to play that role.”