Calling President Trump’s scheduled appearance Saturday at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum an “insult,” U.S. Reps. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Bolton, and John Lewis, D-Ga., will not attend the opening ceremonies in Jackson.
“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil right activists and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” they said in a joint statement.
Lewis, arrested in Jackson in 1961 with Freedom Riders who were protesting segregated bus travel, was scheduled as a featured speaker at the opening ceremony. Lewis also was an organizer of Freedom Summer, a volunteer effort to register voters in Mississippi in 1964.
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum. The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. 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,” their statement continued.
“After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”
Former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, who also served as secretary of the Navy under President Obama, also will not attend the opening ceremony.
“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.
Trump, who was invited personally by Gov. Phil Bryant, is scheduled to share the stage Saturday with civil rights heroes, such as Myrlie Evers-Williams. Bryant, along with former Govs. William Winter and Haley Barbour, will also speak.
“We look forward to celebrating the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Though we will miss some who may not be with us on Saturday, they will be remembered also as we honor the many people whose stories are told in our two museums,” said Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was more direct in responding to the boycotts: “We think it’s unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn’t join the president in honoring the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history.
“The president hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) countered the White House’s criticism of Lewis and Thompson: “It’s laughable that the White House is criticizing John Lewis and Bennie Thompson for not attending the opening of a civil rights museum that honors the sacrifice of … wait … John Lewis, Bennie Thompson, and many others.
“This White House is not serious about civil rights. From dismantling the civil rights division in the (Department of Justice) to equating peaceful people who protested racism to Neo-nazi’s and White Supremacists, they just don’t get it.”
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the United States.
Opening ceremonies for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History will begin at at 11 a.m. Saturday on the grounds at 222 North St. in downtown Jackson. The openings are part of the state’s yearlong bicentennial celebration.
People planning protests on Saturday say Trump’s record on racial issues makes his presence offensive. Bryant, a staunch Trump supporter and frequent visitor to Washington to work with the Trump administration, says the president’s visit will help bring worldwide attention to the state and the museums.
“We are kinder and more tolerant here in Mississippi than I think perhaps other places,” Bryant said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “Allow the president to come and honor Mississippi with his speech and his presence.”