Melania Trump’s message commemorating Juneteenth is leading to criticism among those calling on the first lady to denounce her past support of the birther movement, which has been decried as a racist attack against America’s first black president, Barack Obama.
Trump posted a video on Friday honoring the day, which celebrates when the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved people in Texas, more than two years after Abraham Lincoln officially ended slavery in the United States. The day has taken on a new significance this year in light of nationwide protests after the killing of George Floyd, and several members of the Trump family have made statements commemorating it.
In her tweet, Melania Trump shared the story “All Different Now” by Angela Johnson, which showed the first Juneteenth — then known as Freedom Day — through the eyes of a young girl.
But many critics instead assailed the first lady for her own racially complicated past. In 2011, Donald Trump picked up on the unfounded claim that Obama had been born outside the United States and faked his birth certificate. Critics said this was a racist attack trying to paint him as something other than American despite no evidence that he was lying about his birthplace. In pushing this claim, his wife joined in as well.
“Do you want to see President Obama’s birth certificate or no?” Melania Trump said to Joy Behar in 2011, via the Independent. “In one way, it would be very easy if President Obama just show it because it’s not only Donald who wants to see it – it’s American people who vote for him and who didn’t vote for him”
As HuffPost noted, Donald Trump made a series of claims regarding Obama, saying he sent investigators to Hawaii to uncover evidence that proved Obama was not born there. The president also asserted that Obama’s birth certificate proved that he is Muslim, and alleged that his predecessor spent “millions of dollars trying to get away from the issue.”
The last person we need to be listening to today is the Be Best Birther. https://t.co/OjxJb32EPd
— Chasten Buttigieg (@Chasten) June 19, 2020
Donald Trump later walked back his claims, saying during the 2016 campaign that he believed Obama was born in the United State. He also blamed his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, for starting the birther movement.
As of this writing, Melania Trump has not addressed her past support of the movement. The first lady’s Juneteenth announcement, however, has led to new calls for her to apologize for her support of the movement and decry it.