The head of the NAACP and two black congressmen, including prominent civil rights leader John Lewis, say they were not present for Saturday’s opening of the nation’s newest civil rights museum because President Donald Trump was there.
“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.
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.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was among the elected officials who attended the competing press conference during Trump’s visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
“It is my appreciation of martyrs both known and unknown that will not allow me to share the stage with a president who does not have a containing commitment to civil rights,” Lumumba said at the press conference. “Mr. President, we don’t need you to tell us what civil rights means in Mississippi.”
Dozens of protesters, some holding signs that read “Love Trumps Hate” and “Trump Trounces on Civil Rights,” gathered outside the state-sponsored museum as the president arrived in Jackson for a private tour of the facility’s exhibits.
Although his attendance was deemed controversial by civil rights leaders such as Lewis, Trump veered from any confrontation in his brief remarks inside the museum after the viewing.
“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.”
ABC News’ Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.