President Trump and first lady Melania Trump applaud Surgeon General Jerome Adams during a National African American History Month reception in the East Room of the White House Tuesday.
Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

WASHINGTON — President Trump marked Black History Month with a reception at the White House Tuesday, celebrating a civil rights movement that "lifted up the conscience of our nation and made us more just, more equal and more free."

"It is the dream of a nation where every citizen, regardless of color, religion or background can grow up to succeed and to thrive," he said. "I know this vision of freedom, equality and dignity lives in the heart of every American patriot. And just like so many African Americans throughout our history who have struggled and sacrificed for freedom, we must do our part to make that vision real for every single American."

The remarks at a formal state reception marked a shift in tone from some of his past remarks on racial protests, following a year in office in which he was often accused of divisive rhetoric. He has appeared to defend white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, Va., accused African-American football players of being unpatriotic for protesting police misconduct during the national anthem, and used vulgar epithets to describe the countries of origin of black immigrants.

But Trump has also touted a record that includes signing a bill to expand federal protections for Martin Luther King's birthplace in Atlanta and an African-American unemployment rate at historic lows.

Analysis: Trump exhibits two starkly different attitudes toward race in America

On Tuesday, Trump stuck largely to a more conventional script, even praising the protest movements that led to progress on civil rights.

"From the pews to the picket lines, African-American civil rights champions have brought out the best in America, calling us to live up to our founding creed and to the truth that we are all made equal by God,” he said.