While protesters were a vocal presence outside, Trump made a pitch inside for support from an electorate strongly aligned with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I want to help you build and rebuild Detroit,” he said. “I fully understand that the African-American community has suffered from discrimination and there are many wrongs that should be made right.”
He also said the nation needs “a civil rights agenda of our time,” with better education and good jobs.
Unlike his usual campaign stops where he confidently has addressed mostly white crowds that supported him and his plans for the country, Trump’s visit to Detroit on Saturday was intended to be more intimate.
Some protesters tried to push through a barrier to the parking lot but were stopped by church security and police.
Rev. Horace Sheffield who led a march from his church blocks away said: “I walked up to the gate and said I was going to church. I was immediately confronted and was told I needed a ticket. You need a ticket to get in church? Anybody who is in this church should be appalled.”
Ahead of his trip, Toni McIlwain said she believes that as a candidate, Trump has a right to go anywhere he wants. But, she said, it takes a lot of nerve for him to visit Detroit.
Many black people in the city, she said, are still stung by his stop in Michigan last month, when he went before a mostly white audience and declared, “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.” He asked, rhetorically, what blacks had to lose by voting for him instead of Clinton.
“People picked up on” Trump saying “you’re all just crap,” said McIlwain, who for years ran a community center that offered education and drug prevention programs in one of Detroit’s most distressed neighborhoods.
“He generalized the total black community. How dare you talk to us like that and talk about us like that?” she said.
But the risky nature of the visit was underscored by what appeared to be unusually cautious planning by the Trump campaign.
On Thursday, The New York Times published what it said was a script of pre-approved questions Trump would be asked in his interview with Jackson, along with prepared answers.
Jackson told CNN on Friday that he “didn’t see anything wrong” with clearing his questions with the campaign and hadn’t offered softballs. Trump’s intention was to meet and speak with local residents while he’s in town “because he’s been criticized,” Jackson said, “for preaching to African-Americans from a backdrop of white people.”
Among the members of the clergy denouncing Trump’s visit was the Rev. Lawrence Glass, who said Trump’s heart was not into helping blacks.