President Trump spent about 30 minutes inside Mississippi’s glimmering civil rights museum Saturday, strolling through exhibits honoring jailed and assassinated leaders before delivering a brief speech at a private ceremony.
The president’s visit to commemorate the opening — the capstone of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration — brought protests and boycotts and evoked raw emotions in the center of the Deep South, the core of the generations-long civil rights movement. Trump delivered his speech to a largely white audience, and his motorcade left before the main opening ceremony — for which hordes of people had gathered in freezing temperatures and a rare snowfall. Tickets had been sold out for months.
Trump largely stuck to prepared remarks, with an occasional impromptu comment.
“Those are very big phrases, very big words,” he said, after reading his speech on Jim Crow laws, segregation, emancipation and achieving the “sacred birthright of equality.”
Trump praised several civil rights leaders by name, including Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in his Jackson driveway in 1963.
“Here, we memorialize the brave men and women who struggled to sacrifice, and sacrifice so much, so that others might live in freedom,” Trump said.
In contrast with his 76-minute rally in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday night, the president finished speaking within 10 minutes — and was gone five minutes after. The often voluble Trump was largely silent as he walked past a Confederate flag insignia, a replica of a Mississippi county jail where protesters were held and beaten, a plaque honoring hundreds of Freedom Riders, an elaborate light sculpture and portraits of slaves in the 1800s. He looked mostly ahead, occasionally stopping briefly to look at a picture or sign, as he was guided by the governor and locals.
“I didn’t have the courage to do what they did,” Reuben Anderson — the first black Supreme Court justice in the state and chairman of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Foundation — who was the president’s tour guide, said to Trump regarding the Tougaloo Nine, who integrated the library in Jackson in 1961. “They took their lives in their hands.”
The museum includes the Freedom Wall, a timeline of slavery from 1619 to the end of the Civil War in 1865, as well as mementos of the civil rights era — including a blood-soaked chessboard from a jailhouse, shards of glass from a bombed church, the rifle used to kill Evers, textbooks from segregated schools — and portraits and names of thousands involved in the struggle. Trump saw two exhibits, blocked from the lobby by a curtain, and was soon whisked away.
The visit was carefully calibrated — with organizers creating an earlier ceremony for Trump to keynote, and protesters never coming within shouting distance of the president. Organizers and Trump’s aides alikefeared widespread protests, but the president wanted to attend after he was invited by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.
SOURCE: Josh Dawsey and Ashley Cusick
The Washington Post