Donald Trump has a few decades on me, so perhaps he can be excused from not learning about Medgar Evers in history class as I did. But he did live through the Civil Rights era and was 17-18 years old when Evers was killed, so you'd think he might be familiar with him.
But the longer I watched him speaking at the opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi (in which the rifle that killed Evers is displayed), the more convinced I became that Trump had no idea who Medgar Evers was at all, or what role he played in the civil rights battles of the Jim Crow era.
He did know who brother Charles Evers was, though, making a point to praise him repeatedly. But perhaps that's because Evers endorsed Trump and was the driving force for having the man who tried to have the Central Park Five executed despite being exonerated by DNA open the Civil Rights Museum, even at the cost of losing the attendance of actual civil rights heroes and honorees like Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Bennie Thompson.
On the whole, it was an oddly low energy speech where you could feel Trump losing interest in whatever his speechwriters crafted for him to sound like he cares about civil rights and the ongoing fights for equality by People of Color.
And then after praising Charles Evers, for having the good sense to support him, he moved on to Medgar Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams. Evers-Williams is a civil rights icon in her own right, not that you'd ever know from Trump's speech.
When the speech reached the portion concerning Medgar Evers, Trump once again departed from the script, noting that he had met Evers’ brother, Charles Evers, earlier that morning.Trump described Evers as someone “who I liked a lot,” then changing roles from someone delivering a serious speech at an important function, Trump took on the persona of the master of ceremonies at a civic club dinner.“Stand up please, stand up,” then he made it clear why he liked Charles Evers. “You were so nice. I appreciate it. You were so nice.”
And so the time that should have been spent remembering the contributions of Medgar Evers became all about Donald Trump.
After the introduction, Trump hurried his way through the prepared remarks detailing Medgar Evers’ service to this country, both in the military and through his work for civil rights.Trump appeared startled when he came across the words noting the presence of Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams.
"We are deeply privileged to be joined today by …” Trump paused, his eyes darting across the room …”by his incredible widow, that’s loved throughout large sections of our country (long pause) beyond this area.” It was obvious Trump had no idea she was going to be there and no idea of what she looked like.
“I just want to say hello to Myrlie.”
No, Mr. President, you did not want to say hello to “Myrlie.” When you are addressing a woman who herself is a civil rights icon and a woman whose 84 years on this earth have earned her a great deal of respect, you may refer to her as “Mrs. Evers,” or “Mrs. Williams” but you may not refer to her as “Myrlie.”
To compound his error, Trump asked, “Where’s Myrlie?” and when he finally spotted her, he added, “How are you, Myrlie?” He then thanked her, once again calling her by her first name.
After that, the president hurried through the portion of the speech concerning Medgar Evers, concluding with Evers’ burial in Arlington National Cemetery, a part of the speech that included some particularly elegant speechwriting, not delivered in a particularly elegant fashion, about Evers’ final resting place being a cemetery where people of all races remain for eternity bound by their service to their country.
The words could have been poignant if delivered by someone who had a clear understanding of what they meant or if they had been spoken by someone who had taken the time to read the speech before he uttered the words.
But that would never happen with Trump.