White House criticizes John Lewis for not honoring civil rights leaders

Lewis won't join Trump for the opening of a civil rights museum.

CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Trump administration blasted Rep. John Lewis’ (D-GA) for refusing to accompany Trump to the opening of a civil right museum, suggesting it was disrespectful to civil rights leaders.

Lewis, of course, is one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders.

Earlier this week, Rep. Bennie Thompson (R-MS) and Lewis — who was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and one of the “big six” civil rights leaders — announced they would not attend President Trump’s planned visit on Saturday to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, characterizing his presence there as “an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum.”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ statement about Lewis and Thompson’s snub that did not mention Lewis’ role in the civil rights movement.

“We think it’s 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,” Sanders said.

She went on to explain that “the [civil rights] movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

Lewis was one of the original Freedom Riders, a primary organizer of the March on Washington, and famously had his skull fractured while leading a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

By contrast, Trump has defended violent white supremacists, embraced law enforcement practices and voting rights restrictions that disproportionately and negatively impact black communities, repeatedly picked fights with black athletes who he has accused of not showing him sufficient respect, and demanded apologies from prominent African-Americans who have criticized him.

It’s not completely surprising that the Trump administration seems unfamiliar with the biography of prominent black American. During an event to commemorate Black History Month last February, Trump characterized slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Douglass died in 1895.

Trump’s campaign message to the black Americans consisted of telling them they have “no health care, no education, no anything,” calling their lives “a total catastrophe,” and saying their communities are in “worst shape they’ve ever been in before.”

During an MSNBC interview in September, Lewis took aim at Trump’s rhetoric.

“Is he talking about worse than slavery? Worse than the system of segregation and racial discrimination — when we couldn’t take a seat at the lunch counter and be served?” he said. “Worse than being denied the right to register to vote, to participate in the democratic process and live in certain neighborhoods and communities?”

The NAACP also criticized Trump’s plan to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. In a statement, NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson said that 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.”