President Trump made a brief visit to Mississippi’s capital on Saturday to attend the opening of a new civil rights museum as his presence sparked a boycott by lawmakers, civil rights icons and protesters who questioned his commitment to racial equality.

“Trump does not care about human rights! Much less: civil rights!” and “Make America Civil Again” read some signs as about 200 protesters gathered outside the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson.

The building, which along with a companion state history museum opened at a cost $90 million, is the first state-owned civil rights museum in the nation. It launched as Americans grapple with growing racial divisions that many activists blame Trump for fueling.

Its kickoff, which had the support of a broad coalition of civil rights veterans and politicians from across the U.S., became overshadowed by the controversy over Trump in recent days as a growing number of civil rights figures announced plans to stay away.

Trump turns celebration of Mississippi Civil Rights Museum ‘into a slap in the face,’ say activists »

They included Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was a major civil rights activist; Rep. Bennie Thompson; former Gov. Ray Mabus and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. They also included members of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, whose national president cited Trump’s “abysmal” civil rights record in calling for him to skip the event.

“Mr. President, we don’t need you in Mississippi to tell us what a civil rights movement is about,” said Lumumba, who gathered with activists at an African American history center about a mile west of the opening to condemn Trump’s arrival.

“We do not respect your attitude and your division of this nation. We do not respect your xenophobia. We do not respect your denial of the fact that black people are to be respected for their worth, dignity and rights,” San Francisco NAACP branch President the Rev. Amos Brown, who grew up in Jackson, said as he stood by Lumumba.

Trump did not heed their calls.

Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, greeted the president on the tarmac before he spent less than an hour at the museum. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson joined Trump.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who invited Trump to visit, and Reuben Anderson, the state’s first black Supreme Court justice, gave the two a brief tour that included an exhibit on the Freedom Riders who rode public transit to challenge illegal segregation. The museum dives into the history of the civil rights movement in the state between 1945 and the 1970s, including major national turning points such as the brutal murder of Emmett Till outside Money, Miss., in 1955.

White House spokesman Raj Shah pushed back against the protests and accusations of racism.

“It’s a little unfortunate that a moment like this, that could be used for unification and bringing people together, some folks are choosing to play politics with it,” Shah said.

Trump has “always condemned racism, violence and bigotry and hatred in all forms,” Shah added.

Philemon Williams, a black Jackson resident and Trump supporter who wore a “Make America Great Again” shirt to the opening, agreed.

“We need him. He’s our president. We got to give him respect. I don’t have no problem with him,” said Williams, 51. “There are racists here and everywhere, but that’s not his fault.”

But Nicki Nichols, a 34-year-old white Jackson resident, said she did not believe the president was sincere in his condemnations. She joined demonstrators outside the museum security perimeter, some of whom took to their knees to support the anti-racism protests ignited by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“The position of the president of the United States is generally regarded as a respectable individual who strives to ensure the safety and security of the nation, and its citizens,” Nichols said. “Donald Trump has consistently failed to live up these standards and has also repeatedly chosen to use his position to belittle not only those whose values he does not support, but to belittle American citizens.”

jaweed.kaleem@latimes.com

Jaweed Kaleem is The Times’ national race and justice correspondent. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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UPDATES:

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with details of Trump’s visit and reaction from attendees at the museum opening.

This article was originally published at 10:05 a.m.





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