The International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro denied Donald Trump’s request to hold an event at the museum two weeks ago – and has faced retaliation from his supporters because of it, according to the museum’s CEO.
John Swaine said the Trump campaign was trying to plan the Republican nominee’s visit to the historic museum Sept. 20, the same day he campaigned in High Point and Kenansville. Swaine said that campaign staff asked to videotape Trump walking around the museum and requested that the museum shut down for five hours to accommodate his visit.
“We made it known to Mr. Trump’s campaign that we were not going to grant a request of suspending our operations so he could somehow try to legitimize his ideological positions,” Swaine told The News & Observer. “The landmark is very important – it’s not just a political backdrop.”
The museum is in the former F.W. Woolworth building, the site of the 1960 lunch counter sit-in protest against segregated eating establishments. The facility seeks to commemorate the historic sit-in and to promote equality today.
Swaine said museum staff who spoke to a representative from Trump’s team said he did not request a tour of the museum and seemed instead to want only a photo-op for the nominee. Swaine said that months are spent training the museum’s tour guides, and that the museum does not allow “un-vetted” presenters to act as guides.
He said that since news of the museum’s decision broke last week, museum staff members have received threats via phone calls and social media.
“The callers were threatening to come over and burn down the building and to shoot up the building,” he said. “They’ve lessened in frequency this week, but they’re still coming in.”
Swaine said callers have used foul language and racial epithets, and he said museum employees are now recording the calls. But he also noted that he is appreciative of support that has come via social media and in calls from across the nation.
Kirk Bell, the communications director for Trump’s North Carolina campaign, wrote in an email that the campaign “is not commenting on this matter.”
Swaine said that as a private nonprofit organization, the museum has a First Amendment right to control its public messages, adding that a church would not be “expected to make its pulpit available to someone advocating against religious belief.”
The museum does allow high-profile citizens to take private tours, Swaine said, and would have done so for Trump had he asked. Swaine said that he has been contacted by a member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign about a possible visit and added that the former secretary of state would also be welcome to take a private tour.
U.S. Rep. G.K Butterfield, who represents Durham and large portions of northeastern North Carolina, said Trump would “learn so much from touring museums that contain African-American history and culture.”
“Instead of proposing constructive and legitimate solutions that bring people together, Donald Trump has made the heart of his campaign about tearing good people apart,” said Butterfield, a Democrat. “Our country is better than that, and North Carolina is better than that.”
Although Trump has tried new outreach strategies to connect with African-Americans, those efforts have largely fallen flat. His support among African-American voters still falls between 2 and 6 percent in national polls.
Speaking in High Point, Trump said he would create a new civil rights agenda and fight for safety in inner cities.
“What do you have to lose,” Trump asked, addressing African-American voters who he said have been failed by Democratic policies.
In Kenansville later that day, Trump said: “We’re going to rebuild our inner cities, because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever.”
Butterfield noted in a statement after the speech that Trump apparently “missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow.”
Rachel Chason: 919-828-4629