(CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky acknowledged he made some mistakes during his speech at the historically black Howard University last week but largely defended his appearance, the first by a major Republican in nearly two decades.
At a Washington breakfast with reporters Wednesday, Paul said he was unfairly criticized by what he described as left-wing media, who argued the senator wrongly portrayed the history of African Americans switching to the Democratic Party.
In his speech last week, Paul said the transition happened during the Great Depression in the 1930s, arguing that African Americans left the GOP because they were struggling financially and weren't getting the "economic emancipation" they wanted from Republicans.
Paul visited the university in an attempt to change what he described as inaccurate perceptions of the GOP being racist.
"There's a perception that Republicans don't like people of color. They don't like black people, brown people or people of different colored skin. It's not true, but that's the perception we have to overcome. And the only way to overcome that is by showing up and saying over and over again it is not true," he said Wednesday at the breakfast, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
His visit to the university came weeks after the GOP rolled out its plan to better connect with minority voters, including African Americans. The Republican National Committee will spend $10 million on staff members to communicate conservative principles in cities across the country, one of the many decisions it made following the party's major loss among minority voters in the presidential election.
Critics, however, blasted Paul last week for not talking about the so-called Southern Strategy, a tactic used by the GOP in the 60s and 70s to win over longtime Democrats who opposed the Civil Rights movement.
Paul argued Wednesday the Southern Strategy "cemented" the demographic change that had already taken place among African Americans. He also didn't bring it up, he said, because he didn't go to Howard to mention "the things that don't make us look so good in the Republican Party."
While the first-term senator considered his reception at the speech "very good," he got many negative reviews from students at the event.
"It wasn't an easy audience, but it was the beginning of a conversation," he said at the breakfast.
One student, however, praised Paul just for simply showing up.
"I think Rand Paul won everyone in the room over when he made the announcement that he was going to come and speak to Howard University students because we know throughout the years, the Republican Party has blatantly ignored and disrespected the African American community," Julian K. Lewis, a senior, told CNN's Jake Tapper. Lewis, though, acknowledged he largely disagreed with Paul's viewpoints.
Critics also hit Paul for fumbling to recall the name of former Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the first African American elected to the Senate by popular vote.
"Well I'm human. I forgot his name. I knew his name, but I forgot it. It wasn't like it was part of my speech and I forgot it," he said. "It was in an answer."
And he was criticized for asking the audience if they were aware the founders of the NAACP were Republicans. They audience loudly responded "yes."
Paul said Wednesday he was unfairly mocked for being presumptuous and argued the public at large probably doesn't know that part of history, which is why he was asking last week.
"In retrospect it sounds like it is a dumb question, but Republicans haven't been going to Howard for 20 years, and by going there, I did learn something-I learned that everyone there knows," he said.
Paul said he'll continue to make such outreach visits and pointed to his visit to the historically black Simmons College last week in Kentucky.
I'll keep trying. I don't give up easily," he said. "I'll keep trying."