Civil rights leader to sit out Trump appearance
Rep. John Lewis won’t speak at opening of two museums in Mississippi
JACKSON, Miss. — U.S. Rep John Lewis announced Thursday that he won’t speak at the opening of civil rights and history museums in Mississippi, saying it’s an “insult” that President Donald Trump will attend.
The long-planned Saturday ceremony will mark Mississippi’s bicentennial of admission into the union. But what was intended as a moment of racial unity and atonement in the state with the largest share of AfricanAmericans is descending into racial and partisan strife after Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant invited fellow Republican Trump to attend.
The NAACP has said Trump should cancel his planned appearance because of his divisive record on civil rights issues.
Lewis announced his decision in a joint statement with U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democrat in Congress.
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” they said. “President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”
Lewis and Thompson join some other prominent Democrats in the state who have pulled out since Trump’s visit was announced. The chair of the state’s black legislative caucus, Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes of Gulfport, is urging people to stay away from Saturday’s events.
The White House issued a statement calling it “unfortunate” that Lewis and Thompson won’t join the president in honoring the “incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history.”
The White House said Trump hopes others will join him in recognizing “that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”
Two distinct museums are being dedicated under one roof. A museum of Mississippi History covers 15,000 years of human habitation. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum focuses primarily on the years 1945 to 1976, telling about efforts to break down segregation and bigotry, and the violent backlash against that work.
The museums take an unflinching look at the state’s past, including graphic photos of lynchings and firebombings.