U.S. Rep. John Lewis canceled his plans this weekend to attend the grand opening of a civil rights museum in Jackson, Miss., because he would have had to share a stage with President Donald Trump.
The Atlanta Democrat said Thursday afternoon that he was scrapping his planned speech Saturday at the ribbon-cutting of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, but he added that he would reconsider if Trump chooses not to attend the event.
“Right now, we’re not going,” Lewis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But there’s a possibility that the head man may not show up, may cancel.”
Lewis’ comments came less than a day after he expressed doubts about whether he could “live with myself” if he appeared on the same program as his political nemesis. The 30-year congressman and civil rights leader said it was not appropriate for Trump to be invited given his response this summer to white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.
“I think his presence would make a mockery of everything that people tried to do to redeem the soul of America and to make this country better,” Lewis said Wednesday, the same day he and 57 other House Democrats voted to impeach Trump.
One of Lewis’ colleagues, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., also announced Thursday that he would not attend the museum’s opening event.
“The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi,” Lewis and Thompson said 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.”
Mississippi holds special significance for Lewis. He was arrested and jailed there in 1961 as a young civil rights activist participating in the Freedom Rides.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “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,” Sanders said in a written statement Thursday.
Trump was invited to the museum opening by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. Some civil rights figures said they will protest the event if the president appears.
Lewis and Trump have traded barbs for the better part of the year after Lewis, a high-profile Hillary Clinton supporter, said he didn’t see Trump as a “legitimate president.” Trump then took to Twitter to call Lewis’ Atlanta-based 5th Congressional District “crime infested” and “in horrible shape.” Lewis later skipped Trump’s inauguration and first congressional address in protest.
The NAACP has also called on Trump to skip the event.
Not all black lawmakers shared Lewis and the NAACP’s view. U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, said it would benefit Trump to visit the civil rights museum.
“If anybody needs to go, it’s Trump,” Scott said. “The president clearly needs to be educated and informed on racial policies. He has to begin to become more sensitive and understanding of the fact that much of what he’s done has given the NAACP and so many in the black community a negative impression of him.”
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