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Maine Gov. Paul LePage: John Lewis Should ‘Thank White Republicans’ for Ending Slavery

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has a history of inflammatory remarks. (Photo: Matt Gagnon/Wikipedia)

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican known for making racist and other inflammatory statements, ripped Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) for criticizing President-elect Donald Trump, saying the civil rights icon should thank white Republicans for ending slavery.

The Associated Press reports LePage took exception to comments by Lewis, who said Sunday on NBC “Meet The Press” he is boycotting Trump’s inauguration. Lewis, who has represented Atlanta in the House of Representatives since 1987, said he doesn’t “see Trump as a legitimate president” because he believes “the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

LePage suggested Lewis, who for years led the struggle for black civil rights alongside Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and was beaten nearly to death by racist police while marching for voting rights in Montgomery, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday” in March 1965, needed a history lesson.

“We’re sick of the silver-tongued people,” LePage told WVOM-FM. “How about John Lewis last week? Criticizing the president? You know, I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history. 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.”

Historians, however, said perhaps it is LePage who needs a history lesson. Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and backed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the first Jim Crow laws establishing segregation of blacks and whites throughout the South weren’t implemented until after Grant left office in 1877. Furthermore, the Compromise of 1877 — the secret bipartisan electoral deal by which Hayes, a Republican like Lincoln and Grant, secured the presidency in exchange for a promise to remove federal troops from the South, tremendously harmed blacks. It marked the end of Reconstruction, a period of emancipation and great gains for many blacks — Southern states elected 15 black US congressmen and two black senators during Reconstruction — and ushering in nearly a century of Jim Crow segregation, disenfranchisement and violent oppression.

“Gov. LePage’s comments reflect a profound misunderstanding of history and the crucial role that Rep. John Lewis played in the struggle for civil rights,” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in response to the governor’s comments. “Gov. Lepage should be calling upon President-Elect Trump to engage with leaders like (Congresswoman) Chellie Pingree and John Lewis rather than ratcheting up the rhetoric against those willing to stand up for their beliefs.”

LePage has a long history of racist, sexist and other bigoted remarks, prompting the state’s third-largest newspaper to apologize to the rest of the country on behalf of Maine for elevating him to a position of power and prominence. Last year, he blamed New York drug dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie [and] Shifty” for not only surging heroin addiction rates in Maine but also for “impregnating young white girls,” creating “another issue we have to deal with down the road.” After a Democratic rival criticized the governor’s racist remarks, LePage called him a “socialist cocksucker.”

Lewis’s remarks about Trump were followed by an early morning Twitter attack in which the president-elect called Lewis, who risked and nearly lost his life while fighting successfully and peacefully for the civil rights millions of Americans enjoy today, “all talk” and “no action or result.” In response, dozens of Democratic lawmakers, many of them people of color, have announced that they, like Lewis, will boycott Trump’s inauguration. Some of the protesting lawmakers used the #IStandWithJohnLewis hashtag in explaining their decisions.

“I will not be celebrating or honoring an incoming president who rode racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry to the White House,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said in a statement. “On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.”

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