JACKSON — President Donald Trump joined a crowd of civil rights leaders, government officials and citizens in Jackson on Saturday to celebrate the state’s bicentennial and the opening of Two Mississippi Museums, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Trump spoke to veterans of the civil rights movement prior to the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting open to the public. Although he was originally supposed to attend the ceremony, that plan changed after he received criticism from several groups, including the NAACP.
US Congressman John Lewis, who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address, announced Thursday that he would not be joining the President on stage.
“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” Lewis said in a statement.
Although the President was not on stage for the opening ceremony, Lewis did not speak.
In his address to a small crowd, Trump spoke highly of the new museums.
“It really is a beautiful, beautiful place,” Trump said. “These museums are labors of love; love for Mississippi, love for your nation, love for God given dignity written into every human soul.”
He spoke of the hope that Americans have held for generations as well as hope for the future.
Just outside of the museum grounds, several dozen protesters gathered to voice their disapproval of Trump’s presence.
Protesters lined the streets near the two museums chanting “impeach Trump” and holding signs reading “Trump does not care about human rights, much less civil rights.”
After the president’s tour of the museums, Master of Ceremonies Justice Reuben Anderson welcomed the opening ceremony.
Anderson said he appreciated the President acknowledging the importance of the new additions to the state.
“Earlier this morning, the President of the United States was here to see these two beautiful museums and we are grateful for his recognition of the importance that Mississippi has played in the history of this nation,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he worked on the creation of a Civil Rights Museum for more than 40 years and he is excited to celebrate the opening of the two museums alongside the state’s bicentennial.
“I am proud of the people these museum celebrate, the stories that they share, the experiences that they offer our children, our families, and all of the people across this nation who visit these museums,” Anderson said. “These museums will be a place of civic discussion, learning and for inspiration.”
Gov. Phil Bryant attended the ceremony and said the museums were constructed with the help of thousands of individuals.
“Today is not about us, it is about Mississippi,” Bryant said. “It is about the history that we see inside. From the earliest of times. It is about the Native Americans that were here far beyond our appearance.”
The governor said it was an emotional experience to walk the museums with the president.
“As (Trump) peered around the room at the exhibits, the President said, ‘Ya’ll have done something great here.’ and I said ‘Mr. President, they did something great here long ago,’” Bryant said. “They fought for freedom, as surely as any soldier has ever done so upon any battlefield. The war raged here in our home. These stories must never be forgotten or obscured.”
The governor went on to talk about how although Mississippi has a dark history, it is important to remember the past so the state can improve in the future. He said the two museums will help to preserve the history and show how Mississippi has endured.
“The photographs and exhibits here are memories that should be rightfully preserved and celebrated,” Bryant said. “The dark days of segregation cast a shadow across our beloved state that could only be eliminated by the light of the civil rights movement.”
Myrlie Evers, the widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers who was murdered in his driveway in June of 1963, was also in attendance.
The rifle that fired the lethal bullet at her husband is now on display in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Evers talked about how even though the world seems to have a negative perception of Mississippi, it is a place she has grown to love and is proud to call home.
“Mississippi is not all that people think that it is. It is so much more. It is so much more because of the people who have given so much, such as the people who are included in Two Mississippi Museums,” Evers said.
She said that while she is proud of the state for opening the museums, she was not initially thrilled with the decision.
“When I first heard of the concept of two museums, I immediately thought, ‘Are we going back to our old practices? Are we having two separate but possibly equal museums?’” Evers said.
She said former Mississippi Gov. William Winter said the two museums are joined by steps, but each have a different goal that completes the other museum.
“I had the opportunity of going through both with time to look and digest what is there. These museums are priceless.” Evers said. “You know the souls that are on exhibit, you hear the sounds of the horror, but you (also) hear the sounds of coming together and building not only a strong nation, but the state of Mississippi.”
Evers said although the day was a moment for celebration, there is still much work to be done. She said modern challenges are similar to those she and her husband had faced.
“He said, ‘But where is the depth of your understanding? It’s not just about me, it’s not just about you, but it is about each and every one of us who live in this state and who embrace this country… because regardless of race, creed or color, we are all Americans and that is what this institution brings to the front and that if Mississippi can rise to the occasion, then the rest of the country should be able to do the same thing.’”
Although these two museums are places everyone can enjoy, former Gov. Winter said they were built specifically with children in mind.
“Supporting the education of Mississippi children has been the work of my lifetime,” Winter said. “(The children) are the future of our state, and if we send (children) into this world without a strong understanding of where (they’ve) come from, then we have let (them) down.
Saturday was the first day that the two museums were open to the public, and Mississippi will celebrate its bicentennial Sunday.
DeAndria Turner covered the event for Rebel Radio 92.1. Listen to her radio package below: