A new civil rights museum is opening in Mississippi, but one civil rights leader has announced he will not be attending its grand opening. Georgia Rep. John Lewis will skip the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum's inaugural weekend because he couldn't live with himself if he shared a stage with President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to be in attendance.
In a joint statement with Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the two congressmen said, "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."
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.
They said they encouraged visitors to attend the museum "after President Trump departs."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the congressmen's decision, saying:
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.
Earlier in the week, Lewis expressed concerns about attending the museum's opening in tandem with with Trump, telling the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that he was unsure "whether I can live with myself" if he were to do so. "Right now we’re not going," Lewis told the publication following his announcement. "But there’s a possibility that the head man may not show up, may cancel."
Other civil rights groups have also announced they are joining in on the boycott. The NAACP president and executive chief said in a statement on Tuesday that Trump's "statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement." Overall, he added, Trump "has created a racially hostile climate in this nation."
The museum's grand opening is happening in conjunction with an adjacent museum dedicated to Mississippi history more broadly. The civil rights museum's website says its mission is to "[promote] a greater understanding of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and its impact by highlighting the strength and sacrifices of its peoples."
Lewis and Trump have long had an acrimonious relationship, with each criticizing the other in the press. For example, Lewis chose not to attend Trump's presidential inauguration back in January, and when he announced his intention to abstain from the event, he said on Meet the Press that he did not see Trump as a legitimate president.
In turn, Trump lashed out at Lewis by disparaging the district he represents, tweeting, "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. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!"
Lewis is revered by many for his work as a civil rights activist, which includes demonstrations in Mississippi, where he participated in the historic Freedom Rides. In 1961, he was arrested for "disorderly conduct" in the state because he used a "white" restroom. He served 37 days in the Parchman Penitentiary. Needless to say, his absence at the event will weigh heavily on an administration that's been criticized for attacking civil rights in more ways than one.