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Newly appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson offered few policy specifics during his first address to employees on Monday, a meandering speech marked by a startling comparison between slaves brought to the U.S. and immigrants.

Carson’s remarks on immigration recalled a Texas textbook referring to slaves as workers.

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships,” he said. “They too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”


The comments drew swift and angry reaction.

Don’t care what he once did. I wouldn’t trust Ben Carson to operate on a crawfish head. “Get out the kitchen, Ben. Step back from the pot.”
— Jeffrey Wright (@jfreewright) March 6, 2017
The actor Jeffrey Wright said he wouldn’t trust Carson to operate on a crawfish head, while Samuel L. Jackson reprised a favorite, if profane, phrase from “Pulp Fiction” in a tweet.

The NAACP weighed in simply: “Immigrants???”

— NAACP (@NAACP) March 6, 2017

In a Facebook post on Monday night, Carson reversed his earlier comments, saying that slave and immigrant experiences were entirely different.

“Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders,” he said. “The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy.”

He added: “The two experiences should never be intertwined, nor forgotten.”