Last year, Omarosa Manigault-Newman wanted Howard University — the historically black school known as “The Mecca” — to welcome Donald J. Trump.
The prospect of Trump visiting Howard turned into a persistent rumor on campus last year, and the source of quiet activity. Howard’s student newspaper strongly opposed the idea. The RNC donated $2,000 to start a College Republican chapter at the school — but students couldn’t gather enough signatures. One source briefed on talks told BuzzFeed News that someone had proposed a town hall event in which Trump would answer questions, maybe with TV personality A.J. Calloway.
By September, though, time was running out: As a last ditch effort, Manigault-Newman invited a handful of Howard students to Trump International, the D.C. hotel where the candidate planned to speak that day, according to a senior campaign staffer at the time and others familiar with the event.
She introduced the students to a series of Trump-world figures like Katrina Pierson — and Steve Bannon, who looked “super stoked,” one person familiar with the meeting said, as Manigault-Newman explained that she was trying to bring Trump to Howard’s campus. The students also got the chance to shake the hand of Donald Trump himself.
This all happened on the day Trump said, without apologizing, after years of his birther crusade, that President Obama was born in the United States.
The plan for a Howard visit never got off the ground.
The ill-fated efforts to bring Trump to the school, though, were just the beginning in the the complicated — and increasingly tense — relationship between this White House and the country’s historically black colleges and universities. The most pressing issue: a conference scheduled for September, just weeks after Trump seemed to defend a group of white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville by saying they had “very fine people” in their ranks.
After Trump’s response to Charlottesville, two prominent groups — the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund — have joined a black Democratic lawmaker in calling on the White House to postpone the annual conference put on every year by the White House Initiative on HBCUs.
The White House has refused to postpone the event. The conference is just one part of the traditional infrastructure between a White House and the schools. In recent days Manigault-Newman has “pushed hard” to name members to the president’s board of advisers on HBCUs, according to a person familiar with the planning.
Manigault-Newman in particular wants to serve as an organized, front-facing liaison between Trump and HBCU leaders. Historically black colleges and universities face a much more delicate and difficult balance: The schools depend on federal funding, while serving students and alumni who largely can’t stand the president. And that tension keeps intensifying.
School presidents reached for this story referred BuzzFeed News to a statement by Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. “At a critical time in our nation, and in the spirit of unity among our HBCUs, we believe this postponement would allow us to work together to develop a common agenda that will serve the best interests of our HBCUs, and especially our students.”