Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a handful of African Americans in North Philadelphia on Friday that he is not a bigot, and blamed the media for portraying him that way, according to people who attended a private event.
"He does not see himself as a racist and neither did the people around the table," said Renee Amoore, deputy chairwoman of the Pennsylvania GOP.
Trump supporter James Jones, the Republican nominee for the Second Congressional District seat, said he was one of 12 to 14 African Americans at the luncheon at the View, a catering hall run by People for People, a nonprofit operated by Greater Exodus Baptist Church at Broad and Brown Streets. Trump and his guests dined on meatballs over rice, tilapia with crabmeat, eggs stuffed with curried chicken, and carrot cake.
"He's not a racist. He's not a bigot," Jones told reporters and protesters outside.
"He said he is not a bigot," Jones said. "And he said you guys, the press, tend to take words out of place quite easily."
Jones said Trump spoke at the luncheon in "broad strokes" but not in specifics about issues.
Crime and immigration were key issues in a post-lunch meeting between Trump and a North Jersey mother whose daughter was killed in a 2007 triple murder.
"I came here to talk to Mr. Trump about his platform on illegal immigration," said Shalga Hightower, whose daughter Iofemi was killed in Newark, N.J. One of the men convicted in her death was an illegal immigrant.
"I told him my story, what happened to my daughter, how she was murdered." She said they talked for 45 minutes and that she supports Trump's candidacy.
Malik Boyd, who ran for state representative as a Democrat in 2012, said he came to the meeting to hear specifics about what Trump would do for the African American community, and left disappointed and unsure about whether he would support the Republican.
Amoore, like several guests, had to weather withering verbal abuse from a small group of protesters who followed them for blocks.
Trump, she said, "was there because he wanted to hear what we had to say," as three people tried to shout her down. "We're going to do the best we can to have a Republican win in Pennsylvania, which hasn't happened in a long time."
Pennsylvania last supported a Republican for president in 1988.
Ryan Sanders, an Republican National Committee staffer heading up African American voter engagement in Pennsylvania, coordinated invitations to the event. He said about half of those who attended were Republicans.
"This was an African American event on African American issues," Sanders said. "We hear a lot about Republicans who never actually go into these communities. And here [Trump] was, smack-dab in the middle of North Philadelphia."
The Rev. Herb Lusk II, pastor of Greater Exodus, is a prominent conservative and former adviser to President George W. Bush. He said the Trump event was a rental agreement with the nonprofit, not an invitation from him or his church.
Lusk said he had not decided which candidate to support for president.
"I'm like a lot of Americans who think the best candidates are not running," Lusk said.