By Jaweed Kaleem
Protesters greeted President Donald Trump in the Mississippi capital Saturday as he came to speak at the opening of a civil rights museum.
After the White House announced this week that Trump would visit the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and give a speech at its dedication, many people in Jackson said they would boycott the event.
They included Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was a prominent civil rights activist; Rep. Bennie Thompson; former Gov. Ray Mabus; Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba; and members of the NAACP.
"Mr. President, we don't need you in Mississippi to tell us what a civil rights movement is about," said Lumumba, who gathered with activists at an African-American history museum about a mile west of the opening to condemn Trump's arrival.
"We do not respect your attitude and your division of this nation. We do not respect your xenophobia. We do not respect your denial of the fact that black people are to be respected for their worth, dignity and rights," said San Francisco NAACP branch President Amos Brown, who grew up in Jackson.
White House spokesman Raj Shah pushed back against those speaking out against the president, who have accused Trump of enabling white supremacists in his statements and Twitter posts and promoting tax and health policies that disproportionately hurt minorities.
"It's a little unfortunate that a moment like this, that could be used for unification and bringing people together, some folks are choosing to play politics with it," Shah said. "But that's not going to deter us from honoring heroes in the civil rights movement."
Trump attended the event at the invitation of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who oversees the Mississippi Department of Archives that runs the museum. The president landed in Jackson with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, greeted Trump at the airport.
"These buildings embody the hope that has lived in the hearts of every American for generations. The hope for a future that is more just and is more free," Trump said to a mostly white, invitation-only audience in the museum.
Speaking for about nine minutes after a short tour of the museum, Trump said:
"The fight to end slavery, to break down Jim Crow, to end segregation, to gain the right to vote, and to achieve the sacred birthright of equality.
"That's big stuff. Those are very big phrases. Very big words. Here we memorialize the brave men and women who struggled to sacrifice, and sacrifice so much, so that others might live in freedom."
Trump called Martin Luther King Jr. "a man who I studied and watched, admired for my entire life." He also spoke of local civil rights activist "Sgt. Medgar Wiley Evers ... he fought in Normandy in the Second World War" and then battled "grave injustices against very innocent people." Evers was murdered in Jackson in 1963. Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, was in the crowd.
The Mississippi State History Museum also opened Saturday, housed with the civil rights museum in another wing of a downtown building. Together, the two museums cost more than $90 million.
The civil rights museum is the only state-sponsored museum of its kind in the nation. Its exhibits explore the history of the civil rights movement in the state between 1945 and the 1970s, including major national turning points such as the lynching of Emmett Till outside Money, Miss., in 1955.
Trump was initially expected to speak at a public ceremony outside the building for a celebration to include a speech by Myrlie Evers-Williams. But the White House said late in the week that Trump would talk to a smaller crowd of about 200 museum donors, civil rights figures, and local and state officials inside the museum before flying to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Fla.
"There's not a lot of black people here," said John Perkins, an 87-year-old Jackson resident and veteran of the civil rights movement who sat in the front row of the auditorium with his daughter, Joanie Potter, next to a seat reserved for Bryant.
"For me personally, it's like an Ebenezer, a new beginning. I hope this can be symbolic of a time for reconciliation. ... It was a heart searching for me to come here after the president was coming, but I decided it's too important. We got to do to together."
A few blocks outside the museum past a security perimeter, demonstrators lined High Street with signs as some turned their backs or took to their knees in protest against Trump, who has mocked National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem in protests against police brutality.
They included Nicki Nichols, a white resident of Jackson
"The position of the president of the United States is generally regarded as a respectable individual who strives to ensure the safety and security of the nation, and its citizens," Nichols said. "Donald Trump has consistently failed to live up these standards, and has also repeatedly chosen to use his position to belittle not only those whose values he does not support, but to belittle American citizens."
(c)2017 Los Angeles Times