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On MLK Day, Trump-Lewis throwdown draws varied responses

Protest passes by National Museum of African American History and Culture, but all is calm at King memorial

Visitors began filing into the National Museum of African American History and Culture the moment it opened at 10 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Parents pushed children in strollers, friends readied with mittens and hot coffee walked into the lobby, and those with tickets for later in the morning queued excitedly to wait for a glimpse inside Washington, D.C.’s, newest museum.

But that moment of calm came to an abrupt halt as a group protesting Donald Trump’s election paraded down Constitution Avenue brought with them a cacophony of angry sound. Protesters called him a racist and a rapist, waving fliers in the faces of passers-by. They yelled, often so loudly that their concerns became blurred in a wind tunnel of white noise.

The moment was an angry coda to a holiday weekend of barbs between Trump and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia). Lewis, an almost universally admired symbol of the civil rights movement, started it by telling NBC News’ Chuck Todd that he does not believe Trump is a “legitimate” president, and that he would not be attending a president’s inauguration.

Trump retaliated on Twitter on Jan. 14, saying, “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”

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The attack shocked many people who didn’t understand how Lewis, who was famously beaten during the Bloody Sunday march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, could be slammed as “no action.” Trump’s Twitter attack was followed by contradictory news reports that on Monday he might visit the museum that Lewis was instrumental in establishing and that included, for instance, an exhibit with photos of Lewis speaking at the 1963 March on Washington. In the end, Trump was a no-show.

“I think he [Trump] should be a little more respectful of someone who has given their entire life to civil rights,” said Lisa Peyton, who was standing outside of the museum as the protest passed by. “I think it’s unfortunate that he feels the need to, as he calls it, ‘counterpunch.’ ”

Jeffrey Edwards, who was visiting the museum for the first time, felt similarly. Edwards agreed with Lewis’ view that Trump is not a legitimate president, saying his business-centric outlook wasn’t appropriate for a president.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of confirmation hearings on Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) nomination to be U.S. attorney general in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017.

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“He’s [Trump] a great businessman, but he’s not a businessman to run the country. I don’t believe he’s a legitimate president. He’s not for the people, he’s just about making money.”

Not everybody felt the same way. Matthew Harmon, who was taking photographs at the neighboring Washington Monument, said Lewis’ remarks were “rude” and “disrespectful.”

“Whether you like the politics or not, you have to respect the opportunity,” Harmon said. “He [Trump] seems to be on track to potentially being one of the greatest presidents that we’ve ever had.”

Less than a mile away at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, there was a different and less confrontational energy. People laid wreaths at the foot of the memorial. They gathered in groups, taking photos. They raised their fists in a symbol of black power. They smiled.

Corliss and Wayne Clark, along with their son Ace, had come to the memorial from their home in Maryland to commemorate King’s life. Ace carried a multicolored flag with King’s face that read, “I Have A Dream.”

“Moving forward, we have to figure out how to come together to try to work for all of the people and hopefully Trump will listen, but I’m not feeling very confident about it,” said Corliss Clark. “As a president and a leader you have to be able to listen to people, and then bring them together.”

Mike Duvall, a sergeant with the Baltimore County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland, said it was frivolous to be discussing the Trump-Lewis exchange on this day, at this place.

“That’s trivialities in comparison to the challenges that we face as people, and I think we should rally around the true cause of why we are here in order to help everybody,” said Duvall, 60.

For at least this day, party affiliation and political differences didn’t matter, he said.

“The core philosophy that Dr. King stood for was the best interest of humanity as a whole, not Republican and Democrat,” he said.

It was a sharp contrast with the scene outside the museum. With King’s likeness gazing over the cold Potomac River, there were no protesters and comparatively little noise. Instead, several hundred people were walking about the memorial and reading the engraved quotes from King on this national holiday.

This story has been changed to remove a statement that Lewis is planning to boycott an inauguration for the first time. He also declined to attend the 2001 inauguration of President George W. Bush.

Callan Mathis is an intern at The Undefeated and a journalism graduate student at Georgetown University. She runs eight miles a day, is an unapologetic Knicks fan, and a really good cook. So, she also goes by Forrest Gump, Spike Lee and Ayesha Curry.