Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III gave Donald Trump, the then U.S. president-elect a private tour of the African American History Museum in 2017.
Bunch has captured details of the tour in his new memoir, “A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama and Trump” the Washington Post reports.
Bunch alleged he was informed by Trump’s officials prior to the tour that he, Trump, “was in a foul mood and that he did not want to see anything difficult.”
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Bunch, who was the founding director of the museum and the first African American to be elected Smithsonian Secretary added: “It was not my job to make the rough edges of history smooth, even for the president.”
Trump’s officials wanted to schedule the tour on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2017. This meant shutting the museum for Trump’s private tour on such a memorable day in American history.
“The notion that we could shut out our visitors on the first King holiday since the opening of the museum was not something I could accept,” Bunch reportedly wrote in his book. A new date was, however, arranged for the tour, the Post reports.
On the tour, Trump was alleged to have given little depth to the Dutch’s involvement in the slave trade. Bunch said: “The President paused in front of the exhibit that discussed the role of the Dutch in the slave trade. As he pondered the label, I felt that maybe he was paying attention to the work of the museum. He quickly proved me wrong.”
“As he turned from the display, he said to me, ‘You know, they love me in the Netherlands.’ All I could say was let’s continue walking.” To Bunch, the comments from President Trump lacked empathy. He also added that he was disappointed that he was unable to improve Trump’s views on the history of slavery.
Bunch captures the “combative relationship with many in the African American community.” The Smithsonian Secretary wrote that Trump’s “administration’s combative relationship with many in the African American community — from his feuding with Congressman John Lewis …. to the attacks on professional athletes, the overwhelming number of those singled out for critical tweets were African American, to his refusal to criticize the white supremacists whose rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia led to the death of Heather Heyer — have deepened the racial divide.”
In his recent interview with the Post, Bunch admits that he has no doubts that there were things Trump learned and engaged with on his tour. “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,” he added.
To many visitors, the museum is a symbol of hope for a united America. “Many visitors have told me that since the election in 2016, the museum has gained even greater significance. To some, visiting the museum allows them to find the solace, inspiration and hope that the current poisonous political partisanship and racial antipathy will one day be overcome,” Bunch said.