The missive came from Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage during a radio interview on Tuesday, according to several U.S. media reports, following Lewis’s blunt and biting criticism of president-elect Donald Trump.
“John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage said. “It was Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant that fought against Jim Crow laws. A simple thank you would suffice.”
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, changing the legal status of millions of people in the South from “slave” to “free,” and abolishing slavery.
Jim Crow laws mandated segregation in public facilities (public schools and busses, and juries and federal workplaces, for example) in Confederate states, beginning toward the end of the 19th century – or immediately following Hayes’s election (which immediately followed Grant’s presidency).
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“After 1877 and the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, southern and border states began restricting the liberties of blacks,” according the website of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan.
Almost 80 years after Hayes’s election, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled segregation of public schools unconstitutional in 1954. The rest of the Jim Crow laws were overturned with 1964’s Civil Rights Act.
Lewis, a Democratic congressman, is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and has devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Ala., more than a half century ago.
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Trump has been waging an attack on Lewis since the congressman described Trump as an “illegitimate president.”
Lewis, like the growing list of Democratic lawmakers, vowed to skip Trump’s Friday swearing-in ceremony.
Trump turned to Twitter to respond, writing 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.”
— With files from The Associated Press