By LIAM STACK
John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Democratic congressman from Georgia, said Thursday that he would not attend opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum this weekend because President Donald Trump would be there.
In a joint statement, Lewis and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Trump’s presence at the event would be disrespectful to the memory of those who participated in the struggle for civil rights, particularly in light of his “disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players.”
They encouraged people to visit the museum “after President Trump departs.”
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” the statement said. “The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi.”
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Lewis said he might attend the event in Jackson, Mississippi, if Trump did not.
“Right now we’re not going,” said Lewis, who was badly beaten by the police while marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Thursday that it was “unfortunate” that Lewis and Thompson would not “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,” she said.
The announcement Monday that Trump planned to attend the opening of the museum quickly drew controversy. Jacqueline Amos, the chairwoman of the Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee, called it “a slap in the face.”
The NAACP also criticized the president’s proposed attendance at the opening. Derrick Johnson, the organization’s president, said in a statement that Trump’s record on “the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement.”
“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,” Johnson said.
Lewis, who voted Wednesday in favor of a failed attempt to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, has clashed with the president several times since he won the election.
Days before the inauguration in January, Lewis said in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he did not view Trump to be a “legitimate president” and believed “the Russians participated in helping this man get elected.”
He said he planned to boycott the inauguration for the first time in three decades, which he did.
Trump lashed out at the congressman the next day on Twitter, saying his congressional district, which includes three-quarters of Atlanta, was “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested.)” He also said the civil rights icon was “all talk, talk, talk – no action or results.”
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is the only state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country. Its exhibits document the history of the civil rights struggle, and the violent white supremacist reaction to it, from 1945 until 1976.
Its displays include a charred cross burned by the Ku Klux Klan, a list of the places and dates of Mississippi lynchings, and the rifle used to murder civil rights activist Medgar Evers.