This Saturday, President Trump visited Jackson, Miss., where he toured and delivered remarks at the newly-opened Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Trump was provided with a brief tour of the museums before addressing an audience of approximately 200 people. Trump adhered to a brief 10-minute speech, speaking largely of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in his driveway by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in 1963, and the state’s civil rights legacy.
“We pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past and dedicate ourselves to build a future of freedom, equality, justice and peace,” President Trump said.
Trump’s comments rung hollow with a substantial portion of attendees.
“I’m here today because the significance of the event. The struggle that blacks had to go through in Mississippi, this is a symbol of our history…It was a heart searching for me to come here after the president was coming, but I decided it was too important,” civil rights veteran and Jackson resident John Perkins said to LA Times reporter Jaweed Kalem.
Perkins was not the only one who felt that way. Upon Trump’s announcement via Twitter, United States House of Representatives members John Lewis and Bennie Thompson released a joint statement calling the president’s presence an “insult.“
“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,” they wrote. “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.”
Ranks of various Mississippi state representatives and NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson followed suit.
“His attendance is a distraction from us having the opportunity to honor true Americans who sacrificed so much to ensure that democracy works,” Johnson said to CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “It is unfortunate, in fact it is an affront, to those individuals who fought for voting rights to ensure that people had quality education and access to health care will be celebrated. Those are principles this President does not support.”
The controversy grew so intense that Trump’s visit led the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the White House to create a separate private event for Trump. Trump chose not to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and shortly after his speech, departed for Mar-a-Lago.
Republicans across the country have condemned the actions of Lewis, Thompson and the plethora of individuals who have protested Trump’s decision to attend.
Today’s dedication of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a time to honor the legacy of heroes, but Democrats chose to play petty politics.
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) December 9, 2017
Today @POTUS will visit the opening of the CIVIL RIGHTS museum in Mississippi.
— Bradley Scott ?? (@Hoosiers1986) December 9, 2017
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 9, 2017
The actions of fearless leaders such as Rep. John Lewis, who was arrested with the Freedom Riders in 1961 and was an influential organizer for the Freedom Summer of 1964, were labeled “petty politics.” The Republican Party openly embraces racism as a part of its national platform and through their support of President Trump. In their attempt to label activists and Democratic lawmakers as the “real racists,” the Republican party only reinforces their bigoted image.
As an African-American woman, I found Trump’s choice to make this event a photo opportunity absolutely repulsive. He embodies the very brand of politics these Mississippian civil rights leaders were fighting against. When Trump was serving as the president of his family’s real estate company, the Trump Management Corporation, the Justice Department sued the company for denying black people the ability to rent apartments in his complexes twice. In 1992, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino $200,000 because managers would remove African-American card dealers at the request of a certain big-spending gambler. Trump admitted to his poor treatment of black employees, confirming a former employee’s claim that Trump called “laziness” a natural trait of blacks. On Feb. 28, Trump failed to renounce white nationalist and former KKK leader David Duke’s support of his candidacy three times while on air with CNN’s Jake Tapper. A leader of the Virginia KKK who supported Trump told a local TV reporter in May, “The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes, we believe in.”
The man was right as Trump’s presidency was endorsed by The Daily Stormer, a prominent neo-Nazi news site; Richard Spencer, known Nazi and director of the National Policy Institute; Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, a Virginia-based white nationalist magazine; and an abundance more Neo-Nazi and KKK groups across the country. His actions openly embrace their values; Donald Trump is a KKK member in a suit and always has been. Disparaging black people whether it be former president Barack Obama, Colin Kaepernick, Jemele Hill, John Lewis or Fredericka Johnson is his favorite pastime.
His past and present actions have rendered the words of Saturday’s speech meaningless. He did not deserve the opportunity to praise revolutionaries Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney and more. He has no right to tell us what civil rights means.
Image credit: Susan Walsh/AP