While crowds began to mill in front of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on Saturday morning, a handful of the state’s political leaders — flanked by veterans of the civil rights movement and state legislators — held their own event about a mile away.
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba and NAACP national president Derrick Johnson hosted a press conference at the Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson, deliberately skipping opening day festivities for the museums.
Rep. Bennie Thompson was scheduled to be at the conference but Johnson said the congressman’s plane had been delayed and that he wouldn’t be there.
The Jackson mayor told the audience that the museum tells a necessary and important story and the public should make an effort to visit it, but said he did not attend Saturday’s opening ceremony on principle.
“It can be said so goes Mississippi, so goes the rest of the world. We can see a change right here in the belly of the beast, we can see change take place across the world,” Lumumba told a crowded room of supporters.
“We don’t need Donald Trump to tell us what the civil rights movement means,” Lumumba said.
A day earlier, the group announced they would “respectfully and emphatically decline the invitation to participate” in the opening ceremony and share the stage with the president.
Civil rights activist Amos Brown gave an passionate speech Saturday at the Smith Robertson Museum, which was once a segregated school for black children that he attended as a child.
“Donald Trump did not show up to learn about civil rights,” Brown said.
As his speech became more and more impassioned, he clutched Johnson’s hand while telling the packed room that the president did not deserve to attend the museum opening. His speech was met with raucous applause and a standing ovation by those in the room.
While many who gathered a few blocks away for the opening of the two museums welcomed President Trump’s appearance, the crowd here clearly opposed the visit.
“We refuse to give a photo opportunity to an individual who seems to undermine the right of workers to be paid a fair wage,” Johnson said.
The NAACP president told the audience the work began by civil rights leaders is ongoing and that Trump will not “steal this wonderful thing that honors individuals who sacrificed,” adding that the president doesn’t care about our voting rights.
Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, described himself as “a product of the movement” and said he and all black members of the Legislature are trying to visit the museum before the legislative session begins in January as a reminder of what we must fight for.
“Today was a grand opening, but there will be grander openings.”