John Lewis, others to miss civil rights museum opening, citing Trump’s presence

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Director Pamela Junior talks about the new museum’s central exhibition before presenting a question which may provoke introspection in visitors. Sarah Warnock

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U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Bennie Thompson will stay away from Saturday’s opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, citing the attendance of President Donald Trump.

Lewis and Thompson, both Democratic leaders, had planned to attend Saturday.

In a joint statement, they said that “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 Trump departs, “we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”

In response to the boycott by the two congressmen, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “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.”

Lewis and Trump have tangled before.

After Lewis questioned whether Trump was a “legitimate president” and boycotted Trump’s inauguration, Trump fired back on Twitter: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

Gov. Phil Bryant invited Trump to attend Saturday’s openings of the civil rights museum and the History of Mississippi Museum as part of Mississippi’s 200th birthday.

On Thursday, former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus announced he won’t be attending the museum opening.

“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,” he said. “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. Donald Trump’s words and deeds show he would not stand with people like Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and so many, many more.”

State Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, D-Gulfport, who chairs the Black Caucus, said she is staying away Saturday because of the president’s “disrespect” for African Americans and others, but plans to attend the museum later with her family.

“I cannot express my gratitude enough to those heroes and ‘she-roes’ who are being honored in our museum,” she said. “The leaders being honored in the museum were murdered at the whim of a lawless mob, and could not sit freely in public buildings and public transportation. These icons were witnesses that weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning. It has been a long night, Mississippi.”

Others have also announced they are boycotting or protesting.

Mississippi’s civil rights museum is the nation’s first such state-sponsored civil rights museum. The state spent $90 million on both museums, and another $19 million was privately raised for exhibits and endowments.

The museums will open with a ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday on the grounds at 222 North St., a block west of the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

Speakers will include the widow of Medgar Evers, Myrlie Evers, as well as Gov. Phil Bryant and former governors Haley Barbour and William F. Winter.

In a joint statement Thursday, Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Bishop Brian R. Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and Bishop James E. Swanson Sr. of The United Methodist Church praised the two museums and said the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will “serve as a significant acknowledgement and affirmation by our state not only of its accomplishments but of its sometimes bloody and shameful past. Our hope, indeed our common prayer, is that the Museum will help us move toward individual and collective reconciliation for the hurts, injustices, prejudices, failures, violence and omissions of the past and empower coming generations of Mississippians to do justice and love mercy.”

The bishops said they hope Trump “will use his attendance at the opening of the museums and the Bicentennial Celebration to acknowledge the sacrifice and witness of countless individuals who offered themselves, their souls and bodies, to eliminate injustice and oppression in our state. Our state’s Bicentennial is a cause for celebration. May it also be an occasion for us to launch new and meaningful efforts of reconciliation and healing.”

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