Trump attends civil rights museum opening; black leaders stay away

JACKSON, Miss., Dec 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump flew to Mississippi on Saturday to attend the opening of a civil rights museum, but his visit was marred by the absence of top African-American leaders who stayed away in protest of his policies and record on race relations.

Trump toured the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and delivered brief remarks, paying tribute to African-Americans who fought institutionalized racism, including Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist who was murdered outside his home in Jackson in 1963.

RELATED: Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi

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Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi
U.S. President Donald Trump steps from Air Force One for a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, as he steps from Air Force One for a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump tours the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump tours the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during his visit at the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. December 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi December 9, 2017. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a museum in Jackson, Mississippi with the mission to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. state of Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi December 9, 2017. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a museum in Jackson, Mississippi with the mission to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. state of Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi December 9, 2017. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a museum in Jackson, Mississippi with the mission to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. state of Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
JACKSON, MS - DECEMBER 09: President Donald Trump waves after speaking following a tour of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on December 9, 2017 in Jackson, Mississippi. The museum had a grand opening event with hopes to promote a greater understanding of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and its impact by highlighting the strength and sacrifices of its people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi December 9, 2017. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a museum in Jackson, Mississippi with the mission to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. state of Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
JACKSON, MS - DECEMBER 09: President Donald Trump speaks after touring the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on December 9, 2017 in Jackson, Mississippi. The museum had a grand opening event and hopes to promote a greater understanding of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and its impact by highlighting the strength and sacrifices of its people. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi December 9, 2017. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a museum in Jackson, Mississippi with the mission to document, exhibit the history of, and educate the public about the American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. state of Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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"We want our country to be a place where every child from every background can grow up free from fear, innocent of hatred and surrounded by love, opportunity and hope," Trump said in prepared remarks.

Referring to Evers and other civil rights leaders showcased in the museum, Trump said: "Today we strive to be worthy of their sacrifice. We pray for inspiration from their example."

Trump acknowledged Evers' wife Myrlie and brother Charles in the audience.

U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a Democrat who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, said on Thursday that he would not go to the museum opening because of Trump's presence.

"President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum," Lewis said in a statement with Mississippi Democratic U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, who also declined to attend.

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Donald and Melania Trump host Hanukkah reception at the White House
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump host a Hanukkah Reception at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Ivanka Trump holds her son Theodore (C) alongside Jared Kushner (R), senior White House advisor, attends a Hanukkah reception hosted by US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump passes his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump receives applause as he hosts a Hanukkah Reception at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (C) attends a Hanukkah reception hosted by US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a Hanukkah Reception at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner attends a Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Holocaust survivor Louise Lawrence-Israels (R) speaks alongside US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump (L) during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: (L to R) U.S. President Donald Trump and White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner attend a Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
First Lady Melania Trump attends a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside First Lady Melania Trump (L), Holocaust survivor Louise Lawrence-Israels (2nd L) and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik (R) during a Hanukkah reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: (L to R) First lady Melania Trump and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: (L to R) U.S. President Donald Trump talks with White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner as they attend a Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 7: (L to R) Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, son Theodore Kushner, and White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner attend Hanukkah Reception in the East Room of the White House, December 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. Hanukkah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 12 this year. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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The two men also cited Trump's "disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players" and said the president had shown disrespect to those who fought for civil rights in Mississippi.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also took issue with Trump's attendance.

However, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who is black and ran against Trump in the early 2016 Republican presidential primaries before dropping out, accompanied the president on his tour of the museum.

Trump, a Republican, has had a complicated record on race relations. He was a leading proponent of the false theory that Democratic President Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, was not born in the United States. Obama was born in Hawaii, a U.S. state.

In August, Trump unleashed a firestorm of criticism, including from Republicans and a top adviser in his administration, for saying that both left- and right-wing protesters were at fault for violence at a white supremacist-led rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one woman died.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said on Friday ahead of the visit that the civil rights movement was about fighting intolerance, hatred and bigotry and that Trump intended to honor the leaders of that struggle.

The White House called the decision by Lewis and Thompson not to attend "unfortunate."

Trump concluded his remarks by saying: "Today we pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past and dedicate ourselves to building a future of freedom, equality justice and peace." (Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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