Donald Trump and about 100 African-American clergy members spent two hours behind closed doors discussing race and racism on Monday, with the Republican presidential candidate standing by his conduct on the campaign trail.
When it was over, Trump said he "saw love in that room." An attendee, Bishop George Bloomer of Durham, North Carolina, called the gathering at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue a "brutal" and "grueling" discussion.
It came nine days after a Black Lives Matter protester who disrupted a Trump campaign rally in Alabama was beaten by backers of the billionaire businessman and followed publication of an open letter in Ebony magazine from 100 other black religious leaders calling on their fellow ministers to reject Trump's "overtly divisive and racist language."
The letter also denounced the candidate's tweeting of inaccurate statistics "insinuating that black people are more violent than other groups."
Flanked by African-American clergy after the meeting, Trump told reporters he had no intentions of softening his rhetoric.
"The tone has taken me to first position in every single poll," he said. "The beautiful thing about the meeting is they really didn't ask me to change the tone. I think they want to see victory."
There was no group endorsement, as the campaign had originally billed the event. Several attendees said they had no plans to endorse Trump but seized the opportunity offered by the meeting to speak with the GOP's leading 2016 contender about violence, welfare, unemployment and other issues.
Darrell Scott, a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, pastor who organized and moderated the talk, said he will endorse Trump and his counterparts planned to pray on whether to lend support.
"We made history today because we had meaningful dialogue with Mr. Donald Trump," Scott said. He added that the Black Lives Matter movement shouldn't criticize African-American clergy who seek out answers.
Bloomer said he was not ready to endorse Trump and would meet any presidential candidate who invited him.
He relayed that Trump, speaking about the Alabama incident in the meeting, said he did not know the protester assaulted at his rally was black and thus his encouragement of the heckler's removal was not racially motivated.
Orrin Pullings Sr., a Richmond, Virginia, pastor, before the meeting said he was going in with an open mind. He told MSNBC afterward that Trump needed to apologize for his handling of the demonstrator and also for his mockery of a disabled New York Times reporter because the behavior has "turned a lot of people in the minority community off."
One invitee, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, of Love Fellowship Tabernacle church in Brooklyn, said in an Instagram post Sunday that he skipped the meeting for reasons that included name-calling by Trump.