by Dr. Amos C. Brown
Dec. 15, 2017 – The backlash against President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the new Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum underscores an issue far more significant than a polarizing president. It was further proof that the wounds from decades upon decades of racial injustice in our nation, and in Mississippi in particular, remain deep.
The pain and the sensitivities are ever-present, as is the continued socio-economic oppression that has kept African Americans as second-class citizens. What truly went wrong this past Saturday was not President Trump’s visit, but rather his departure. He apparently left Mississippi without fully understanding these wounds, and, much like his followers, without any urgency to heal them – to heal the wounds and honor the legacy of martyrs and civil rights icons.
These reasons are why I joined NAACP National President Derrick Johnson, the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP branches, Congressmen John Lewis of Georgia and Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi in opposing Trump’s visit. His presidency has not shown a sensitivity to our history, nor have his policies. By simply showing up in front of the cameras, he was a distraction. Worse, he certainly didn’t do what he intended: win over African American voters and bring unity to our nation.
You see, the great people of Mississippi trudge on through difficult times, but they don’t forget. They don’t forget decades of injustice that continues today. They certainly can’t shed the horrific memory of the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till in 1955, after a white woman claimed she was offended by him in a grocery store.
I wish Trump could fill my 14-year-old shoes when I learned about young Emmett Till’s murder. That could have been me, I thought, or any of my loved ones, as I picked up Jet magazine, which I delivered as a boy, and read about the tragedy. That moment catapulted me into the battle for social justice and human rights. It was the kind of moment, repeated too often over many years, even today, that offers individuals a deep understanding of the importance of the brand new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
What truly went wrong this past Saturday was not President Trump’s visit, but rather his departure. He apparently left Mississippi without fully understanding these wounds, and, much like his followers, without any urgency to heal them – to heal the wounds and honor the legacy of martyrs and civil rights icons.
I didn’t just get mad – I did my homework. I confided in my mentor and friend at the time, the great Medgar Evers, then field secretary of the NAACP and he said, “Don’t just get mad; be smart.” From his advice, I organized a youth council to teach our young friends how to fight racism and injustice. It was the very first youth council in the state of Mississippi.
This is the reason for a place where individuals can learn why a museum to civil rights is in the state of Mississippi and why it is such an important, sensitive place. A place where we can learn from our past and begin to peacefully fight for a brighter and better future.
It’s an education President Trump hasn’t benefited from. Though he freely takes to Twitter to utter pretty much anything he wants without consequence, no matter how offensive. I was removed from a segregated high school in 1958 for simply speaking to a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper about racial injustice in Mississippi schools.
After the article came out, the Jackson school district’s white superintendent, KP Walker, contacted my mother and told her I couldn’t go back to that school because I could not keep my mouth closed. Mr. Evers threatened to file suit over the matter – an early experience that remains very tender to me.
At age 20, I was jailed after taking issue with a white doctor in the emergency room of a Mississippi hospital who said to an elderly African American patient, “What’s wrong with you, boy?” I was subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace.
You see, in the past and still today, an African American brazen enough to open his mouth and breathe appears to disturb the peace. When Trump denounced 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem to oppose injustice, what he was in essence saying was, “What’s wrong with you, boy?”
I never forgot the moment that elderly patient was disrespected. And none of us will soon forget President Trump’s description of Black athletes who stood up against injustice as “sons of bitches.”
When Trump denounced 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem to oppose injustice, what he was in…
Authored by Mike Tigas