NOTE: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND SHOULD NOT BE ASSUMED TO REFLECT THE VIEWS OF DEEP SOUTH VOICE OR ITS AFFILIATES.
Saturday’s opening of the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Downtown Jackson has been something many Mississippians have been anticipating for months and years. In many ways, this (at least partly) publicly-funded tribute is the single most significant acknowledgment ever by the state of its dark – oftentimes bloody – past.
In a state where the majority of voters still support a state flag littered with the stars and bars of the treasonous confederacy, public acknowledgement of the state’s sordid past is hard to find. In fact, Mississippi legislators did not vote to ratify the 13th amendment until 1995 – some 130 years after its adoption. The Klansman who killed three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in the heat of 1964’s ‘Freedom Summer’ was not convicted for his crime until 2005 – some 12 years ago.
So, the people of Mississippi have been anticipating with great intensity the opening of a museum that would, in some ways, serve as a public acknowledgement of our violent, racist past. It is for this reason that the news of President Trump’s presence at the opening ceremony has produced such agony from all corners of the state.
As many of us feared, Mississippi cannot even do this one, simple thing to pay tribute to the black bodies and souls that helped build and shape this complicated place we call home – not without tainting the ceremony by including in it a man who has been sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination, who called Nazis and white supremacists “fine people,” and who frequently incites racial strife.
Picture it. President Trump, a man literally endorsed for the office by the Ku Klux Klan, takes his spot on a dais for the ceremony. Next to him is Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of slain NAACP worker, Medgar Evers. In 1963, Klansman Byron De La Beckwith stood outside the Evers’ Jackson home with a rifle. He assassinated Medgar Evers as he returned home from work. His loving wife and his small children witnessed the murder. Beckwith was not convicted for his crime until 1994.
Next to Evers-Williams will be Congressman John Lewis. Lewis, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The Alabama State Police beat him – nearly to death. Earlier this year, on the holiday weekend celebrating MLK, President Trump called Congressman Lewis, “All Talk! No Action!”
The very soil where the ceremony will occur is drenched in the history of supremacy, violence, and oppression. Do not the black men and women, living and dead, who sacrificed so much to achieve a fairer, better Mississippi, deserve this opening ceremony without the distracting, not-in-good-faith appearance from this president? Have they not earned it? Have they not shed enough blood for it? Shouldn’t Saturday be only about them?
I, for one, will not be present for Saturday’s ceremony if the President decides to attend. Why? Because watching a man that has been praised and endorsed by the KKK, sitting next to the widow and children of Medgar Evers and Congressman John Lewis, open a civil rights museum in Mississippi is too much irony to process, even for me.
Fannie Lou Hamer deserves better. Medgar Evers deserves better. Rev. George Lee, Vernon Dahmer, James Meredith, Hollis Watkins. They all deserve better.