Museum backers try to keep focus on Mississippi history; former Gov. Mabus to skip opening

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Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

The unveiling of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum has for years been a planned reconciliation, of sorts, for a state with a battered history of racial violence and hatred.

But the day now incites mixed feelings as Secret Service agents and speechwriters advance the museum grounds this week in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s visit.

Update: U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Bennie Thompson will not attend opening ceremonies.

Photo by Sherry Lucas

Artist and Transformit founder Cindy Thompson shows the scale of the individual blades that make up the fabric sculpture “This Little Light of Mine” at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

The museum’s concept, set to be unveiled on Saturday, the weekend of the state’s bicentennial, is to finally center truth in the teachings of the state’s past. The overdue justice has been the museum’s grand appeal, and taxpayer dollars funding the project – the only funding structure for a museum of its kind in America – has been its selling point.

Some Mississippi organizations who have devoted their efforts to the museum’s unveiling hope the world’s focus will remain on Mississippi’s history.

“We’re very excited about the opening of the two museums that will honor the history of those that have given their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy,” said Yolanda Clay-Moore, public relations manager of Visit Jackson. “I think that the opening is worthy of a presidential presence, but I pray that it does not overshadow what we’re truly trying to accomplish in these two museums.”

But others are dreading the day of which they’ve long dreamed.

“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation.

Trump, who was invited personally by Gov. Phil Bryant, will share the stage Saturday with civil rights heroes Myrlie Evers-Williams and U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Bryant, along with former Govs. William Winter and Haley Barbour, will also speak.

“Mississippi should be proud that the president of the United States has agreed to speak at the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” Bryant said on social media Wednesday. “The world will be watching our Bicentennial celebration. Let us come together as one Mississippi.”

Another former governor, Ray Mabus, who also served as secretary of the Navy under President Obama, said he had now decided not to attend.

“This institution and event should be a celebration of the hard-won progress in civil rights, but the main speaker, Donald Trump, is actively attacking that progress and turning us back to the dark days of hatred and division. An overt racist and a supporter of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Donald Trump represents the exact opposite of what this museum is about — honoring the heroes who fought for, and often died for, the idea of equality of all,” Mabus said.

The stage will be set on the plaza of the new museums in downtown Jackson, a city that is 80 percent black, dead centered in the state with the largest black population in the nation.

The museum openings were timed precisely to complement Mississippi’s Bicentennial Celebration on Dec. 10.

Chandler Griffin, co-founder of Blue Magnolia Films, contributed to The Mississippi Mile, a bicentennial celebration featuring an outdoor photo gallery of the most celebrated storytellers in Mississippi that will be on display this weekend.

“(The) strength of our project is rooted in bringing people together, not dividing,” Griffin said.

In either case, some contributors still consider the event as a shining moment in the state’s history.

“We’re looking forward to honoring all those that are featured in the museum, and we’re looking forward to people from around the world knowing the history of the state,” said Cynthia Goodloe-Palmer, executive director of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, Inc. who helped organize the event’s entertainment.

But many couldn’t get past the news of the president’s visit.

Wednesday afternoon Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, chair of the Mississippi Black Legislative Caucus, released a statement.

“I will not be attending the grand opening of our Civil Rights Museum. I will await a time to visit the museum with my family without the president disrespecting the men and women who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms I am privileged to have today.” 

  • boonhoggenbeck1

    Bryant: “Let us come together as one Mississipipi”???? How about changing the damn flag?

  • Melba Woods

    Racism is as alive today in Mississippi as it has always been. Governor Bryant knew exactly what he was doing when he invited Donald Trump to attend the ceremony. Trump has shown that he believes in white supremacy. There are many notable, qualified African Americans excluding Charles Evers, who could have been invited to speak or attend the dedication. Rise up Black people and use your power to vote whenever there is an election!!!!! Black unity is a prerequisite for change. You will continue to be deprived of your Civil Rights for which many of our ancestors fought so valiantly if you remain silent. RISE UP, BLACK MISSISSIPPI!!!YOU DESERVE FAIRNESS AND EQUALITY!!!

    • LB

      In which ways are black people being deprived of civil rights in Mississippi today?

      • Thile

        Have you taken a look at our state’s school systems, LB? In 2015, there was a hayseed legislator from Tish County who said he didn’t want his tax dollars going to those icky black kids in delta area schools. He made those comments at a political rally and you can find his speech on YouTube today.

        • LB

          Without a link I can’t verify your claim.

          Even if your story holds true (and I’m not saying it does), that’s an example of one legislator. No matter how racist the statement of one legislator is, can you demonstrate how he actually deprived black people of civil rights? Being racist, in itself, does not deprive another of rights. No matter how deplorable racists are to you and me, it is their actions, not their beliefs, that may have the effect of depriving another’s civil rights.

          • Thile

            “Without a link I can’t verify your claim.” Since the internet is a tough concept for you to grasp, head over to YouTube and do a search for “Midway Republican Rally 2015.” Mississippi policies toward African Americans since Reconstruction-present is also a good place to look. Hope this helps!

          • LB

            So you found a guy race-baiting in Mississippi. I think we can find examples on the other side as well (Kenneth Stokes, for one). You still haven’t demonstrated how he has taken any action to deprive anyone’s civil rights.

            We can go back in history and find a litany of terrible violations of civil rights. But my original question remains unanswered: “In which ways are black people being deprived of civil rights in Mississippi today?” TODAY is the operative word in that question.

            I’m waiting to be enlightened…

          • Thile

            Kenneth Stokes isn’t a legislator. The guy with a lipful of dip, Bubba Carpenter, is. His position in that video was that of the MSGOP’s during the Initiative 42 debate; Bubba was just dumb enough to say it on video. If you’re looking to be “enlightened,” why not do some reading on your own, as opposed to phony concern trolling online to learn more about a subject?

          • LB

            The City Council is a legislative body, making its members legislators. Regardless, race-baiting tactics are employed by both major political parties.

            From my vantage point, and according to my experience and readings, I believe civil rights violations are a rarity (even in Mississippi). When violations are discovered, the offenders are generally punished.

            A claim was made by Ms. Woods that the civil rights of black people in Mississippi are currently being violated. The burden of proof falls on the party making the claim, and no proof has been provided. You have an opportunity to change my mind with credible evidence and you have failed.

          • Otis

            Here’s a photo of Bubba standing next to Rep. Karl Oliver who called for folks to be “lynched”.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1765456538cca31113823a67725fe87e894f827bc83f52b6185a5d0a00e9c127.jpg

  • Sherry Shepard

    One Mississippi? What rhetoric? There is NO ONE here! Inviting Trump to the grand opening of a Civil Rights Museum in Mississippi is the lowest insult Governor Bryant could offer to Mississippi ‘s citizenry! The silence of Black leaders emboldens these agregious acts of black suppression! Every black leader in the state of Mississippi should skip out on this event, including Myrlie Evers-Williams and John Lewis! If John Lewis skipped the first inauguration in decades for his kids convictions, he has even more evidence of the validity of those convictions about a year since the inauguration! Where there is unity, there IS strength! You are giving strength to racism, bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy Black People, when you support these PR events, touting YOUR SUPPRESSION! They are laughing at your ignorance behind their closed doors! All people who support genuine unity through diversity should say no to this fake, staged effort to deceive!

  • Otis
  • Felicia Yearwood

    Trump has exemplified the antithesis of civil rights throughout his life, including race discrimination in housing, sexual harassment in the workplace, inflammatory hate speech on the basis of national origin, differential treatment on the basis of religion, and mockery of an individual with a disability. What could have been a great moment of pride for Mississippi to acknowledge its history has been turned into another shameful example of trampling the rights of minorities and glorifying an oppressor of civil rights. Bryant should rescind this invitation and allow the Museum to open as a celebration to honor those who fought for civil rights, not a platform for an individual who has consistently stood against civil rights.

  • Thile

    Phil Bryant was “concerned about adding to the state’s debt” to pay for these facilities (six years and a billion dollars of bond debt and $765 million in corporate tax giveaways later, that defense is a real doozy). Didn’t even want the museums built, yet inviting people to the opening. Sad!

    GOP clown car members like state rep Greg Snowden–who authored legislation for TWO MS state flags–the racist rag at current and new, nicer one we’d put out when company comes to visit–and conservative blogs calling people’s motives into question of those who choose to peaceably protest then condescendingly telling people how “The Movement” would really be best served.

    Dang, it’s almost like these calls for “one Mississippi” are fake and disingenuous.