But NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a sharply worded statement that Trump’s attendance would be an “affront” to the movement commemorated by the museum.
“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement,” Johnson said. “He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation.”
Some civil rights leaders and black ministers have said they will protest the president’s visit to the museum.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called those protest plans “honestly very sad” during her afternoon briefing on Tuesday.
“I think this is something that should bring the country together to celebrate the opening of this museum and highlighting [the] civil rights movement and the progress that we’ve made,” she said. “And I would hope that those individuals would join in that celebration instead of protesting it.”
“However, they have every right to protest it,” she added.
The NAACP, founded in 1909, is one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious civil rights organizations. The organization’s rebuke is likely to touch off a new round of debate about the president’s views on racial minorities and civil rights.
He was roundly criticized for his response to the deadly unrest in Charlottesville in August, when he said “both sides” were to blame.
“They feel it’s an insult that he’s coming as we’ve had issues of Charlottesville, the back and forth — the president couldn’t get his statement straight,” American Urban Radio reporter April Ryan said during Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
Responded Sanders: “I think he got his statement very clear when he condemned all forms of racism, bigotry, and violence. There’s no gray area there, and I think he made it very clear what his position is.”
Saturday’s opening, which will celebrate the Civil Rights Museum as well as a new Museum of Mississippi History, is expected to feature speeches from the governor, Bryant; former NAACP chairman Myrlie Evers; and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights leader whom Trump disparaged as “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results” after Lewis said he would not attend the president’s inauguration.
NAACP board member Amos Brown, the president of the organization’s San Francisco branch and a native of Jackson, Miss., called Trump’s potential visit “an insult.”
“He has never been a supporter of civil rights or equal opportunity or justice,” Brown said in a statement. “He’s been silent on civil rights issues, and his silence speaks volumes.”
A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that after Trump’s first nine-plus months in office, which included a number of high-profile incidents involving race, half of Americans think Trump is biased against black people — a view held by 73 percent of African Americans.
This post has been updated.