In December 2017, Lewis also skipped the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum because Trump attended and spoke. Trump’s appearance was met with boycotts and protests as well.
Lewis sees his continued choice to boycott Trump as a way to avoid those regular debacles and making a statement. “I think it's important that when you see something that is not right, not fair, or not just, you have a moral obligation to say something to do something,” Lewis told me. “When I made the decision to stay away from the inauguration last year, almost 70 of my colleagues stayed away. I think people have to find ways to send a message.”
Lewis is one of a number of civil-rights leaders criticizing the president this weekend, in the wake of explosive reports about language he used during a meeting about immigration reform.
Several outlets, confirmed by senators from both sides of the aisle, attest that in a Thursday meeting on immigration reform, Trump questioned why America needed more immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations, referring to them as “shithole” countries. “Why do we need more Haitians, take them out,” he reportedly said. At the same time, the president also said that Norwegian immigrants should be prioritized. Trump now disputes that he ever said the words in question, merely characterizing his speech as “tough.”
Trump’s remarks, as reported, echoed some of the most virulently white-supremacist immigration laws in American history. In the shadow of that outburst, the president appeared at the annual ceremony proclaiming a holiday honoring the civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
During and after that ceremony Friday, Trump faced strong criticism for his comments from associates of the late civil-rights leader. Some of the strongest came from Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. On Twitter, the activist and CEO of the King Center said that “I’m not surprised when I hear President Trump has said something else insulting [racist, bigoted, hateful] about a group of people or a nation of people.” She also spoke for the King family on a Facebook Live video, admonishing the president to refrain from “any effort at tweeting something negative or insulting” on the holiday itself.
The elder King’s protege and friend Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and ambassador to the U.N., took a more diplomatic approach to dismantling Trump’s comments. During an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Young pointed to the role that the Haitian Revolution played in the politics of America and in the road to black liberation in the United States. He echoed the sentiment that Haiti is extremely disadvantaged, but placed the blame at the feet of slavery, colonialism, and exploitation, including on the part of the United States. “It’s largely because the French and the Europeans resented they were defeated there,” Young said. “Haiti has been neglected. It’s also been the victim of hurricanes and earthquakes. We have helped, but never enough to get them on their feet.”