Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of one of the nation's most renowned civil rights activists, and President Trump paid tribute with a short tweet. But as many pointed out, Trump's tweet about Martin Luther King Jr. is at odds with his own record as a landlord in New York City, a candidate for office and, now, president.
"Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination," Trump tweeted." Earlier this year I spoke about Dr. King’s legacy of justice and peace, and his impact on uniting Americans."
And yet to many, Trump's praise for "Dr. King's legacy of justice" rang hollow on several accounts.
Prior to entering politics, for instance, Trump called for the execution of several black teenagers accused of sexual assault even after the teens had been exonerated. Years later, Trump launched his political career by suggesting that the first black president wasn't born in America (he was). As president, Trump endorsed a politician who said that America was "great" under slavery, and claimed that there were some "very fine people" at a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville.
And then there's the fact that Trump, long before entering politics, was once sued for violating one of the most crucial and enduring parts of King's legacy: The Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Passed just weeks after King's assassination, the Fair Housing Act is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and it prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on race, gender, religion, sex, or national origin. The law was expanded in 1989 to ban discrimination against pregnant women, people with disabilities and parents of young children as well.
King was passionate about ending housing discrimination. In 1966, he led the Chicago Freedom Movement, a massive civil rights campaign focused largely on improving the housing conditions of black Americans in cities. King himself moved into a dilapidated apartment on Chicago's west side that same year to more forcefully advocate for fair housing, and spoke passionately about it during the protests.
"We are here today because we are tired,” King said at a rally during that demonstration. “We are tired of paying more for less. We are tired of living in rat-infested slums and in the Chicago housing authority's cement reservations. We are tired of having to pay a median rent of $97 a month in Lawndale for four rooms while whites living in South Deering pay $73 a month for five rooms.”
On the day the Senate voted on the Fair Housing Act, King was assassinated. As chronicled in the documentary short Seven Days, President Lyndon Johnson essentially used the tragedy of King's assassination to pressure reluctant members of the House of Representatives to vote for the bill. The legislation passed a week after King was killed, and is regarded by many as one of the last major achievements of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Five years after the Fair Housing Act was signed into law, Trump was sued by the federal government for allegedly violating it. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Trump, then the 27-year-old president of the Trump Management Corporation, and his father, accusing them of denying housing to black people who applied to live in their properties. A former superintendent for Trump's company later testified that employees were instructed to mark housing applications with a "C," for "colored," if they were sent by a black applicant.
Trump eventually signed a consent degree, in which he agreed to provide the federal government with proof that he wasn't refusing rentals to black applicants or discriminating against black tenants. In 1978, however, the Justice Department accused him of violating that agreement, with a DOJ lawyer telling Trump's attorney that “we believe that an underlying pattern of discrimination continues to exist in the Trump Management organization." The decree itself expired before the DOJ could finish building its case against Trump, however, and the case was officially closed in 1982.
As Trump often notes when this part of his career is brought up, signing that consent decree didn't constitute an admission of guilt. Nevertheless, Trump countersued the U.S. government for attempting to enforce the Fair Housing Act against him, arguing that it would cost his company revenue.
King's conservative niece Alveda, however, insists that Trump is not racist. Still, his record as a landlord in New York City, as well as his conduct as a politician, doesn't quite line up with his tribute.