Byron Donalds walks back remarks on segregation, says he doesn't think "Jim Crow was great"

In an interview on MSNBC, the Republican vice presidential contender insisted that liberals were "gaslighting"

Published June 7, 2024 12:57PM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks with reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol for the weekend on May 17, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks with reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol for the weekend on May 17, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Trump surrogate and vice presidential hopeful Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., is trying to walk back his claim that Black Americans had it better when segregation was still being imposed, falsely claiming his words are being twisted.

In an interview with MSNBC host Joy Reid, Donalds, who is Black, denied making the remarks in question. I never said that it was better for Black people in Jim Crow,” he insisted. ″[They’re] saying I was being nostalgic or saying that Jim Crow was good for Black people, that’s all political spin, it’s a lie, it’s gaslighting and that’s truly unfortunate."

Donalds maintained that his comments were only meant to refer to marriage rates, which have declined over the decades. 

But at an event earlier this week in Philadelphia, aimed at promoting the Trump campaign to Black voters, Donalds said the era of segregation was also better politically.

"You see, during Jim Crow, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together," he told an audience, cigar in hand, at the event. "During Jim Crow more Black people were not just conservative, Black people have always been conservative-minded, but more Black people voted conservatively."

Reid challenged Donalds' original claim, noting that segregation was a time of racist violence.

“The man in the Jim Crow era had no rights," Reid said Thursday. "Could not protect his wife from rape, could not protect his son from lynching.”

She also rebutted Donalds' claim of victimhood.

“You said Jim Crow three times for emphasis," she noted. "It wasn’t the media or the Democrats or gaslighters who brought up Jim Crow. It was you. You brought up Jim Crow."

After repeated interruptions, Reid pressed on: “If a Black man, a Black father, could not protect his wife, his son, or himself from lynching and violence, how is him being in the home mean that that is an era that was better for the Black family or that we should think of as a good thing?” 

Donalds insisted he wasn't praising everything about the era of state-sanctioned discrimination.

“Don’t try to impose that the marriage rates were better — higher, higher I want to be clear— higher in the Jim Crow era to mean that I think Jim Crow was great,” Donalds said. “That is a lie, that is gaslighting. I would never say such a thing.”

Donalds’ Tuesday comments were not taken lightly and sparked criticism from Black congressional leaders, such as Rep. Steve Horsford, D-Nev., who is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He called on Donalds to apologize for “misrepresenting one of the darkest chapters in our history for his own political gain."


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