News & Politics

North Carolina Civil Rights Museum Faces Threats After Denying Trump Access

A civil rights museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, that refused Donald Trump’s request to hold a campaign event there last month is purportedly facing backlash from Trump supporters.

The Trump campaign wanted to make a stop at The International Civil Rights Center and Museum on September 20 so they could get a video of the GOP presidential candidate touring the museum. It’s the site of the 1960 sit-in protest at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter, where four N.C. A&T freshmen made a stand for civil rights.

As reported in The State newspaper, the museum denied the request because Trump did not ask for a tour and only wanted “a photo-op for political purposes,” according to the CEO:

We made it known to Mr. Trump’s campaign that we were not going to grant a request of suspending our operations so he could somehow try to legitimize his ideological positions. The landmark is very important — it’s not just a political backdrop.

Swaine said that as a private nonprofit organization, the museum has a First Amendment right to control its public messages, adding that a church would not be “expected to make its pulpit available to someone advocating against religious belief.”

Trump’s tour would have lasted about five hours and, according to Swaine, would have disrupted the museum’s protocol on vetting tour guides. It takes months to train guides, and the museum doesn’t let “un-vetted” people step in and give tours, he added.

Earl Jones, co-founder of the museum, gave a different reason for denying Trump’s request. He told WFMY that they turned the campaign away because “we thought they demonstrated” an “approach” that “was disrespectful.” Jones told the station that the Trump campaign was “aggressive and rude to museum staff”:

The approach, the type of disrespect, pretty much a demand and bullying us to use the museum in their manner and their way in their time, it was inappropriate and I think it’s probably reflective of the type of insensitivity of civil rights and human rights that’s reflective from Trump over the years.

Jones, however, said the main reason they denied the request was that the museum doesn’t provide special treatment to anyone. He told WFMY he would deny Clinton if she made the same request because he wouldn’t “allow the museum to be used for political gain.”

Since news broke about the museum’s denial of Trump’s request, Swaine said the staff has received threats on social media and through phone calls:

The callers were threatening to come over and burn down the building and to shoot up the building. They’ve lessened in frequency this week, but they’re still coming in.

This isn’t the first controversy that has swirled around The International Civil Rights Center and Museum. In 2014, the city of Greensboro offered to take over operations of the museum because it was having financial difficulties. Mayor Nancy Vaughn said at the time:

[T]he proposal is a result of our focus on keeping the museum open, making it successful, and restoring its credibility as an organization that can be trusted by maintaining public meetings and records, and striving for fiscal accountability.

The museum became the focus of news reports earlier that year when the City Council learned that the museum had been authorized to receive a loan even though it didn’t submit an audit that was required by the city. Since that time, the finances of the museum were open to public criticism and fears that the museum would have to close. The city hoped that by taking over operations and by giving it credibility that a closing wouldn’t happen.

Instead of working with the city, Jones became defensive, calling the city’s offer an outrage and “disrespectful.” Said Jones:

It’s my speculation that there’s a part of the mayor’s group that would like to see the museum taken over so the history and integrity of the civil rights movement can be undermined and whitewashed. I think that’s what it’s about.

The NAACP of Greensboro agreed, and called the city’s offer a “hostile takeover.”

The mayor and City Council shunned any such characterization, saying they were just trying to keep the museum open. Jones was relentless though, accusing the city of creating a false narrative about the museum’s finances so it could take leadership away from the board of directors:

There is an old Jim Crow segregationist mindset … that has always tried to take this museum over from the type of leadership that we’ve brought. Leadership that is uncompromising when it comes to justice and issues of equality and fairness. And that’s what it boils down to.


Fearing the museum was being “attacked” by racists, Swaine sent an email to the National Association of Black Journalists, asking for support. The title of the email: “National Black Treasure Under Attack.”

In that email, Swaine said the museum was being unfairly criticized. He said it had been “bombarded with trash” on the internet by people who want the museum to “close up and go away.”

Swaine outlined in that email how the museum’s finances are just fine and that the City Council is distorting the truth in order to malign a civil rights landmark. He said one councilman, Zack Matheny, interfered with the museum’s fundraising, and wants to hold down and disregard “the betterment of his black community members” for political gain.

Matheny said that simply wasn’t true, and he told the News & Record:

I think it’s a shame. … Somebody’s got to ask these questions. … I’m asking questions that I think challenge the museum to be the best it can be.

The mayor defended Matheny and disputed the charges that he had hurt the museum’s fundraising for political reasons. “[The museum’s] fundraising has been tanking for years,” she said.

In his email to the National Association of Black Journalists, Swaine said he wanted to make the museum’s plight a “national issue and start an endowment” for the museum.

By denying Trump use of the museum, they have certainly made that wish come true.