Trump surrogate Byron Donalds harkens back to Jim Crow era when ‘the Black family was together’

WASHINGTON — Rep. Byron Donalds, speaking Tuesday at a Black voter outreach event for former President Donald Trump, suggested that Black families were more unified and better off during the Jim Crow era, sparking immediate backlash from top Black Democratic officials.

At the Philadelphia campaign event, Donalds, a Florida Republican like Trump, suggested that things had gotten worse for Black people after they embraced Democrats following President Lyndon Johnson’s enactment of Great Society programs in the 1960s, including an expansion of federal food stamps, housing, welfare and Medicaid for low-income Americans.

“You see, during Jim Crow, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively,” Donalds, one of Trump’s top allies in Congress and a campaign surrogate, said in remarks first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer

“And then H.E.W., Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are,” he said, a reference to what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Leading up to those remarks, Donalds said he had more recently seen “the reinvigoration of Black families” — what he described as younger people forming nuclear family units — that is “helping to breathe the revival of a Black middle class in America,” the Inquirer said.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the highest-ranking African American in Congress, took to the House floor on Wednesday and delivered a blistering speech, giving numerous examples of how Black people had suffered under racial segregation.

“It has come to my attention that a so-called leader has made the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow. That’s an outlandish, outrageous and out-of-pocket observation,” Jeffries said.

“We were not better off when a young boy named Emmett Till could be brutally murdered without consequence because of Jim Crow,” he continued. “We were not better off when Black women could be sexually assaulted without consequence, because of Jim Crow. … How dare you make such an ignorant observation? You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Biden-Harris campaign spokesperson Sarafina Chitika also slammed Donalds’ remarks and the Philadelphia event: “Donald Trump spent his adult life, and then his presidency undermining the progress Black communities fought so hard for — so it actually tracks that his campaign’s ‘Black outreach’ is going to a white neighborhood and promising to take America back to Jim Crow.”

On Wednesday evening, members of the Congressional Black Caucus issued a statement calling Donalds a “mouthpiece who will say the quiet parts out loud that many will not say themselves” and demanding he apologize to Black Americans “for misrepresenting one of the darkest chapters in our history for his own political gain.”

Donalds, sometimes mentioned as a possible Trump vice presidential running mate, later posted video of the full remarks in response to Democratic criticism. In a separate video, he said the Biden campaign was “lying” and “gaslighting” because “they’re trying to say that I said that Black people were doing better under Jim Crow.”

“I never said that. They are lying. … What I said was that you had more Black families under Jim Crow and it was the Democrat policies under H.E.W, under the welfare state, that did help to destroy the black family,” he said in a video posted to X on Wednesday.

Rep. Wesley Hunt, a Black Republican from Texas who also spoke at the Tuesday event, came to Donalds’ defense on X.

“Democrats have replaced the father in the black home with Uncle Sam and when strong black leaders point it out, Democrats come unglued,” Hunt wrote. “We are trying to have a national conversation about making black families stronger, about making American families stronger, and that makes the left VERY uncomfortable.”

The Trump campaign event was billed as “Congress, Cognac and Cigars” and is part of a broader effort by the Trump campaign to make inroads with Black voters in swing states like Pennsylvania.

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