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Black Leaders Boycott Trump Photo Op at Civil Rights Museum: “Why Should Our Legacy Be Tarnished?”

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In Mississippi, many black community leaders boycotted the opening of two new civil rights museums on Saturday in protest of President Donald Trump’s presence. Those who boycotted the events included African-American Democratic Congressmembers John Lewis of Georgia and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who wrote in a joint statement, “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.” We speak with NAACP President Derrick Johnson and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Both boycotted some of Saturday’s events in protest of Trump’s presence, which Johnson called “an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We turn now to Mississippi, where civil rights leaders gathered Saturday to celebrate the opening of two new civil rights museums in Jackson.

MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS: Going through the museum of my history, I wept, because I felt the blows, I felt the bullets, I felt the tears, I felt the cries.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of the murdered civil rights icon Medgar Evers, speaking at the inauguration of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson on Saturday. She was speaking outside.

A slew of civil rights leaders boycotted the events in protest of President Trump’s attendance. Those who boycotted, including African-American Democratic Congressmembers John Lewis of Georgia, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, they wrote in a joint statement, “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.”

Well, for more, we go to Jackson, Mississippi, where we’re joined by the NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Both boycotted some of Saturday’s events, in protest of Trump’s presence, which Johnson called it “an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement.”

Let’s begin with Mayor Lumumba. Can you talk about what happened on Saturday in your town, in Jackson, the significance of this museum and President Trump’s presence there?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Yes. Well, first and foremost, thank you for having us.

On Saturday, we opened a museum that tells a necessary history. You know, it speaks to horrible suffering that has gone on in Mississippi and the need to put that story forward so that we don’t repeat those same mistakes. That’s why we felt that Trump’s coming for the occasion was inconsistent with the very premise by which we’re celebrating this history and the sacrifices which led to its building. You know, this is a principled stance, and so we felt that it was disingenuous to the movement. And my failure or my desire not to attend was based on my appreciation for the legacy of those individuals who sacrificed, offered their lives, put themselves in harm’s way. And my respect for their legacy would not allow me to attend.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you didn’t go to any of the ceremonies, Mayor Lumumba?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I did not attend the presentation, or I was not a part of any presentation that Donald Trump was a part of. There have been events taking place all week or this previous weekend, and so I had an opportunity to celebrate the opening of the museum. And I want to be clear that we are happy that this museum is opening. We invite people to come and celebrate the history, to come and learn. We want people both near and far to come. You know, Mississippi has been known for so much negative history. And now we want to be the authors of a new story. So it’s important that we recognize this history in that effort to move forward.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Derrick Johnson, you are the president and CEO of the NAACP, which also boycotted the inauguration of the museum because of President Trump’s presence this weekend. Interestingly, the former chair of the board is Myrlie Evers-Williams, is the widow of Medgar Evers, and she did speak outside. Is that right? And talk about your own decision.

DERRICK JOHNSON: Right. So, she did speak outside, but she was very clear she did not want to give the president a photo op. I believe that led to only a private ceremony for him to walk through the museum.

The legacy of the civil rights movement in Mississippi is near and dear. It still exists. Many of the veterans are still around. They serve as our mentors. They are individuals who sacrificed so much. And for this president to come and seek a photo op, and not uphold any of the values they fought for—you know, the civil rights movement was based on some basic principles: access to democracy, allowing individuals, particularly of African descent, to cast a vote, free of vote suppression. This president support a commission that seek to further vote suppression. The civil rights movement was based on opening up access to healthcare. And that’s why we have the rural community health centers across the country, led by Dr. Robert Smith, who’s still alive, still practices as a physician today. This president is seeking to roll back the Affordable Care Act, which would limit access to healthcare. The movement was around making sure individuals are not exploited for free and cheap labor. This president do not support many of the causes to deepen the ability of working Americans to make a viable living. So, why should we, as citizens of this state, why should members of the civil rights community, why should our legacy be tarnished by an individual who do not hold the values? That’s why we decided that we would not be a part of any function where this president would attend in the inauguration of this Civil Rights Museum.

AMY GOODMAN: And Myrlie Evers-Williams refused to share a stage with President Trump. The gun that was used to kill her husband, Medgar Evers, who’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery, is in the new museum, Chokwe Lumumba?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I am not certain of the fact of whether the gun is there. I have not had an opportunity to view it.

But, you know, what we want to share is that we feel that President Trump’s attendance at this event is inconsistent. It’s inconsistent with the policies he implements, such as Mr. Johnson so well, so appropriately articulated. And so, this is more than just politics as usual. It’s not about, you know, Democrat or Republican. It’s about understanding that we have to have a principled stance and an admiration. Both Derrick and myself are, you know, children of a movement. We look and learn from these individuals, as he suggested, that we had such great admiration for Myrlie Evers and the various other veterans of this movement. And so, out of that respect and appreciation, we felt it wasn’t present—it was important that we not be present. And we understand the contradiction that other individuals have had to face in going, and so we’re not casting any judgment on any individual who made the choice to attend. But we felt that our principled stance had to be one of not allowing Donald Trump an opportunity for a photo op.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece by the great Mississippi—Jackson, Mississippi, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, who says, “The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is the first of its kind in the nation to be state-sponsored and state-funded. Another $19 million has been raised privately for the exhibits, and millions more have been raised to ensure that every ninth-grade student in Mississippi can visit the [civil rights and Mississippi history] museums.” Can you talk about this, Mayor Lumumba?

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: Well, we celebrate the work that has been done to bring this into fruition, both, you know, from the state’s standpoint and the many other unnamed individuals. There’s been a lot of work that has gone into it, you know, bringing the exhibits forward, the courage of the individuals who survived this movement and continue to push forward the ideals of the movement. You know, those are necessary contributions. And so, you know, as I said at the top of our discussion, we encourage people both locally and abroad to visit these museums, to learn of this history and to go on several occasions. And so, this is a necessary point in our history, where we’re speaking to a necessary story. And so, we want everyone to learn of that story. We want everyone to, beyond just learning of it, embrace the ideals. And so, when we speak about the attendance of the president, we understand that it is important to have museums like this, it is important to talk about the history, but even more important than, you know, the celebration of a museum is the celebration of the ideals of this movement in our actions each and every day. And that is what we have found to be inconsistent in the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Responding to Congressman Lewis—

DERRICK JOHNSON: But let’s be clear.

AMY GOODMAN: —and Thompson—

DERRICK JOHNSON: But let’s be clear about Jerry Mitchell’s piece. The reason why this is the first state-sponsored civil rights museum is a direct result of the success of the civil rights movement and all the fights that were made in furtherance of it. The state took on this because we have more black elected officials than any other country. When this was first adopted, the Legislative Black Caucus, being the largest caucus in the House of Representatives, were forceful in making sure that legislation was moved through. That’s a direct result of the civil rights struggle. As a result of those fights and many others, we celebrate this accomplishment. This was not at the benevolence of the state. This was the hard-won fight of individuals who sacrificed much, continue to fight.

When you see Mayor Lumumba and myself sitting here, we are part of a continuum. We have many of the same mentors. We identify with the same causes, because we want to see a state like Mississippi to allow all of its citizens to benefit from the fruits of the state. We still are fighting. We have a Confederate emblem in our flag. We have individuals who would prefer neither one of us to be in the positions that we are in. And so the struggle continues, as we celebrate the accomplishments of those that we are picking up the baton from to continue this fight.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Vernon Dahmer Sr. died defending his family from a nighttime attack by the Ku Klux Klan on January 10, 1966. Inside the Civil Rights Museum, Trump viewed a photograph of the four Dahmer sons, all in the armed forces at the time, returning home to find their family home burned to the ground. The Dahmer family skipped Trump’s speech but did attend the opening ceremonies.

Now, I wanted to get comment, Derrick Johnson—responding to the Congressmen Lewis and Thompson skipping of the Civil Rights Museum opening in Mississippi, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said on Thursday, “We think it’s unfortunate 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.” Very interesting that he would say that, considering the civil rights leader, one of them who did boycott was one that is being—that was a part of this movement, to say the least, as you’re pointing out so many people were who boycotted, and that was John Lewis.

DERRICK JOHNSON: So, that shows you the shallowness of this administration’s understanding of the civil rights movement. Both congressmen—John Lewis spent a substantial amount of time here in the state of Mississippi. He sacrificed much. Congressman Thompson was a part of the civil rights movement towards the latter part. Chokwe Lumumba was a part of the movement during the latter part. That’s a shallow view of what’s taking place. And if Congressman Thompson or Congressman John Lewis or Ms. Evers or Hollis Watkins or any other veterans of the civil rights movement decide to attend or not to attend, they have earned a right to do so, because the celebration of the opening of this museum is a celebration of their hard work, their sacrifice and their determination that all members of this society will be treated with human dignity.

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: If I may add, that the president—the president’s effort to define a civil rights movement for us in Mississippi further demonstrates that he misses the point, that he does not understand that it is not for him to define for us, that the individuals who have sacrificed their lives, that came for this celebration, fully understand what they were engaged in. As Derrick and I sit here at this moment, we don’t make the stance or take the principled stance that we were not going to attend out of ignorance, but out of understanding, because, as Derrick mentioned, my father was actually mentioned in the COINTELPRO documents here in Mississippi. There’s an exhibit that reflects work that he was a part of in the '70s. And so we're well aware of what this means. We’re well aware of what the civil rights movement means at that—meant at that time and what it means today. And that is why we take the principled stance that someone whose policies, someone whose actions demonstrate on a consistent basis that he has no intent on advancing the ideals of this movement, that it would be—it would be inconsistent for—or it would be inappropriate for us to stand and allow him a photo opportunity.

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