Donald Trump’s visit to the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson stirred controversy — at least with some black leaders who refused to attend the ceremony opening the site because the president was there.
In so doing, the so-called leaders of black America chose to politicize a period in our history where both white and black Americans fought side by side to rid the country of the stain of segregation and Jim Crow.
But the black leaders who boycotted Trump’s visit added their own stain to the remembrance of that era by pulling a cheap political stunt during what should have been a solemn occasion to promote unity. Instead, Rep. John Lewis and representatives of the NAACP held an alternate “event” that dishonored the memories of thousands of people of all colors, ethnic backgrounds, and religions who contributed to the effort to end racial apartheid in America.
“We take this stand out of respect for our heroes and ancestors who, often at the cost of their lives, paved the way for the ending of segregation and racial discrimination in Mississippi,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement Saturday. “We honor that legacy by speaking truth to power and calling out this administration’s divisive policies and its pullback from civil rights enforcement.”
Instead of attending the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Johnson held a “separate event” with local leaders at the Smith Robertson Museum in the state capital to “pay homage to those who have dedicated their lives to the civil rights of Mississippians, without the presence of President Donald Trump,” according to a press release.
Mr. Johnson and the other black leaders honor nothing and respect nothing by refusing to attend an event where the president of the United States has been invited. Think what you will about Trump but respect the office.
Lewis, a Democratic congressman from Georgia, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., released a joint statement Thursday announcing their decision to skip Saturday’s museum’s opening, also citing Trump’s attendance.
“After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights 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,” the congressmen said in the statement.
“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.”
“After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum,” the congressmen added.
True, Trump is an insensitive lout who often embarrasses the office he holds. But it appears that Trump was invited solely so that Lewis and the other black leaders could disrespect him, gain some publicity for themselves or their organizations, and advance the cause of Democratic Party politics. Even if that wasn’t their intent, it is the result of their “protest.”
Politicizing civil rights is wrong. There are some things that should be above politics. Trump’s speech to open the museum was subdued, respectful, and struck just the right note:
“The civil rights museum records the oppression, cruelty and injustice inflicted on the African-American community, the fight to bring down Jim Crow and end segregation, to gain the right to vote and to achieve the sacred birthright of equality,” he said at the museum. “And it’s big stuff. That’s big stuff.”
Trump spoke broadly of the “heroes” of the American civil rights movement, without making a direct mention of Lewis. He also praised Martin Luther King Jr., describing him as a “man who I’ve studied and watched and admired for my entire life.”
“Here, we memorialize the brave men and women who struggled to sacrifice, and sacrifice so much, so that others might live in freedom,” Trump said. “Today, we pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past and dedicate ourselves to build a future of freedom, equality, justice and peace.”
It’s too bad that Lewis and other black leaders couldn’t get past their own partisan interests to hear those words in person.