According to the White House, a photo op at a civil rights museum holds more weight than being an active participant in and making sacrifices for the movement itself.
That’s the message White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders communicated to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) Thursday upon his announcement that he and his colleague Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) would not join President Donald Trump at the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi.
Lewis and Thompson issued a joint statement on Thursday confirming they would not be present in Jackson, Miss., at the opening of two museums, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis and Thompson collectively said.
Sanders called it “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.”
“[Trump] hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds,” she added.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (of which Lewis and Thompson are both members), called the White House’s assessment “laughable.”
“It’s laughable that the White House is criticizing John Lewis and Bennie Thompson for not attending the opening of a civil rights museum that honors the sacrifice of … wait … John Lewis, Bennie Thompson, and many others,” he said.
Calls Rep. John Lewis "All talk ... no action" despite Lewis' brutal 1965 beating by police in Selma, Ala., while seeking voting rights.
This is not the Trump administration’s first attack on Lewis. Trump himself attacked the congressman previously on Twitter, calling him “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”
Lewis has a long history of civil rights activism. He was the youngest speaker at the march on Washington in 1963. He marched in Selma, Ala., two years later and suffered a fractured skull. He was arrested dozens of times for his active role in civil rights. Lewis is the last surviving member of the “Big Six,” six prominent leaders during the civil rights movement.
After entering a career in politics, Lewis moved up the ranks, starting on the Atlanta City Council and today representing Georgia in the House of Representatives. His achievements have garnered him various recognitions such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the sole John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement.
“He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO.
The decision by Lewis and Thompson comes after the NAACP issued similar sentiments.
“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO.
In response to the NAACP Sanders called Trump’s position on racism and bigotry “very clear.”
Trump’s response to Charlottesville, calling for blame on “both sides” after a woman protesting against white supremacy was killed; his delay on disavowing KKK leaders; his use of a racial slur targeting Native Americans at an event honoring those very people; his description of NFL players protesting police brutality in America as “sons of bitches”; and his retweet of anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British party are just a few of the more recent instances in which the president made “very clear” what his stance is.