A daughter of Martin Luther King has rejected a claim by Steve Bannon that the late civil rights activist would have “been proud” of what Donald Trump has done for communities of colour.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Bannon, Mr Trump’s pugilistic and populist former senior adviser, said King would have approved of the president’s anti-immigration policies as they prevent “illegal alien labour forces” competing with black Americans for jobs.
“Donald Trump has the lowest black unemployment in history. Donald Trump has the lowest Hispanic unemployment in 25 years,” said Mr Bannon, who was fired from the White House last summer. “If you look at the policies of Donald Trump, anybody…Martin Luther King would be proud of him, of what he’s done for the black and Hispanic community for jobs.”
But Bernice King, the only surviving daughter of King, claimed the white nationalist Mr Bannon had “dangerously and erroneously” co-opted her father’s name. Rather than being pleased with what Mr Trump had done since entering the White House, she said he would have been “extremely disturbed”.
“Bannon’s assertion that my father, #MLK, would be proud of Donald Trump wholly ignores Daddy’s commitment to people of all races, nationalities, etc, being treated with dignity and respect,” Ms King, 55, wrote on Twitter.
“My father’s concerns were not sectional, but global. He was an activist for the civil rights of black people in America, but he was also an activist for human rights.”
She said her father would not use “degrading” terms such as “illegal aliens” – and would never “pit one group against another in the struggle for justice, as Bannon attempts to use him to do”.
“My father would be extremely disturbed by the climate created by leaders who have emboldened people to easily express and demonstrate cruelty, predominantly toward people of colour and immigrants,” she added.
When Mr Bannon was questioned over his claim by a presenter of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, he responded: “You don’t think Martin Luther King would be proud? Look at the unemployment we had in the black community five years ago.
“You don’t think Martin Luther King would sit there and go ‘Yes, you’re putting young black men and women to work’.”
He added: “There’s the lowest unemployment we’ve had in history, and wages are starting to rise among the working class, and you’ve finally stopped the illegal alien labour forces coming in and competing with them every day and destroying the schools and destroying the healthcare. Absolutely.”
During the 2016 election, Mr Trump made some efforts to appeal to African American and minority voters, claiming that Democrats had taken the support of minority voters for granted and delivered little.
Speaking in Dimondale, Michigan, a largely white suburb of Lansing in August 2016, he reached out to the black voters with the question: “What the hell do you have to lose?”
He added: “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 per cent of your youth is unemployed – what the hell do you have to lose?”
When he became president, black unemployment was already falling, but in April 2018 it fell to 6.6 per cent, the lowest rate on record.
While Mr King is best known for his work as a civil rights leader who helped secure the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, in his later years he was working to push the need for economic justice, for both blacks and whites.
Among the ideas he promoted was a guaranteed wage. “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality,” he told a rally of striking sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18 1968, two weeks before he was assassinated at the age of 39.
“For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”
Ms King concluded her Twitter comments by saying her father “would be proud of a livable wage for all and not merely a low unemployment rate”.
She added: “Bannon’s comments are like feeding someone empty calories, in that they don’t convey a comprehensive view of #MLK as a global humanitarian who cared about the well-being of all people.”