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Black lawmakers boycott Trump speech commemorating democracy

President Trump and the media

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Democrats from Virginia’s Black Legislative Caucus are protesting against a visit by President Donald Trump because of what they term his “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric.

They and other Democrats are boycotting the visit.

Mr Trump has travelled to historic Jamestown to commemorate the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

He has stoked racial tensions with attacks on minority Congress members.

Virginia has been roiled in its own racial tensions for the past year.

“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” Mr Trump said on Tuesday as he departed the White House for Jamestown.

What is the event celebrating?

The visit marks the day in 1619 when Virginia’s first House of Burgesses met in Jamestown – the first English permanent colony in North America.

The group of white, male property owners became the inspiration for American democracy and state legislatures and congresses across the continent.

A White House official said the president planned to give remarks that “celebrate our great American tradition of representative democracy.”

Next month, the city plans to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Washington, is leading a delegation of lawmakers to the West African nation of Ghana where they will visit castles where enslaved people were kept before being shipped in bondage to the New World.

On Wednesday she is due to address Ghanaian lawmakers.

What have Virginia lawmakers said?

The last-minute announcement by the White House that Mr Trump would visit the city led to boycotts by the state’s Democratic lawmakers and Black Legislative Caucus.

“We will not be attending any part of the commemorative session where Donald Trump is in attendance,” the Virginia House Democrats said on Twitter. “The current president does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the Western world.”

The state’s black caucus said Mr Trump’s participation was “antithetical to the principles” that the group stood for.

Members intend to hold a rival event in Richmond on Tuesday.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney resigned from the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s steering committee for the commemoration – which issued the invitation to Mr Trump – saying that the Republican president “denigrates our democracy” and should not be welcomed.

Racial rows roil Virginia

Scandals have engulfed the top three highest-ranking politicians in Virginia, who are all Democrats.

Governor Ralph Northam was nearly forced to resign after a photo from his university yearbook surfaced showing one man dressed like a member of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan group and another wearing blackface paint.

And Lt Governor Justin Fairfax – the only African-American lawmaker to hold a state-wide office – has been accused by two women of sexual assault.

In a post on Medium, Mr Fairfax said the commemorations “far supersede the petty and racist actions of the current occupant of the White House” and are more important than the “frenzied and fickle politics of the moment”.

“The bigoted words of the current president will thankfully soon be swept into the dustbin of history. Our democracy, born in Virginia, will live on.”

State Attorney General Mark Herring has also admitted that he once wore blackface at a party as a college student.

Why has Trump been called racist?

Mr Trump has a long history of stoking racial tensions, going back decades before he became a political figure.

In the past month, Mr Trump has accused four Democratic congresswoman of hating America and said they should “go back” to “the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

In the past week he has attacked Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings – who is black – saying that the Baltimore district that he represents is a “rodent-infested mess”.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump called his accusers “racist” and said his strategy of attacking minority lawmakers was helping him politically.

“I think I’m helping myself,” Mr Trump said. “These people are living in hell in Baltimore.”

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