The Guardian: Kenya Evelyn in Washington – Donald Trump refused to praise the late John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and original Freedom Rider, during his latest one-on-one interview, and also questioned the value of the pivotal Civil Rights Act of the 1960s, which Lewis fought and almost died for.
When asked how history would remember the civil rights leader, the president replied, “I don’t know. I really don’t know” and brought the point back around to himself.
“I never met John Lewis, I don’t believe,” Trump said.
In the interview, released late on Monday, with the Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, Trump instead centered his view of the late congressman on their lack of a personal relationship, noting Lewis “chose not to come to [his] inauguration”.
“He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s OK,” he said. “That’s his right. He should’ve come. I think he made a big mistake.”
The interview was conducted as the Georgia congressman lay in state in the Capitol rotunda. Trump did not pay his respects while Lewis’s casket was in Washington, nor attend Lewis’s funeral in Atlanta last week, at which Barack Obama delivered a soaring eulogy that was personally poignant but also a barnstorming political attack on the Trump administration’s efforts at voter and protest suppression.
Flags on federal buildings were ordered to be flown at half-staff for less than a full day to mark Lewis’s death.
Lewis, the son of sharecroppers and a youth activist who rose to represent Georgia’s fifth congressional district for decades, died of advanced pancreatic cancer last month at the age of 80.
Before serving in Congress, Lewis spent years as a pioneering activist in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King and nearly dying in the 1965 attack on marchers in Alabama known as Bloody Sunday.
Before that, Lewis challenged segregation on interstate bus services as a Freedom Rider in 1961.
Despite that decades-long legacy, the president insisted that, perhaps excluding Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for Black Americans” than he had, including Lyndon Johnson, who passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
“How’s it worked out?” Trump retorted. “If you take a look at what Lyndon Johnson did, you think?”
It was unclear what the president meant.
Trump did, however, credit Lewis as someone who “devoted a lot of energy and a lot of heart to civil rights”, while adding “there were many others also”. When questioned, Trump said he would not object to efforts to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where the congressman had his skull broken by state troopers on Bloody Sunday, in Lewis’s honor.
However, Trump repeatedly rejected opportunities to praise Lewis as Swan pressed him about Lewis’s legacy. When asked whether he found Lewis impressive, Trump replied that he could not “say one way or the other”.
“I find a lot of people impressive, I find many people not impressive. But no, he didn’t come to my inauguration,” Trump replied.
Lewis was one of several Democrats who refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, telling NBC in 2017 that he couldn’t “be at home with something that you feel that is wrong”.
Despite ideological differences, the congressman maintained bipartisan relationships throughout his decades in Congress.
The funeral for Lewis was attended by prominent leaders of both parties, featuring remarks from Obama and George W Bush – whose inauguration Lewis also declined to attend in 2001 because he was not convinced Bush was fairly elected over Al Gore.
- Top Feature Photo: John Lewis in 2019. When asked how history would remember Lewis, Donald Trump said: ‘I don’t know. I really don’t know.’ Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters