An antiques store in southwest Colorado is facing backlash over its sale of racist, Jim Crow-era signs. The store owner insists the merchandise isn’t racist in nature, however, and said she has no plans to stop selling them.
Nicola Shanks was perusing knick-knacks at the Antique Corral in Cortez a few months ago when she came across several signs she says left her feeling “angry, confused … and just absolutely dumbfounded.” One of them read: Public Swimming Pool — White Only.”
And there were several others.
“We Serve Colored. Carry Out Only,” another read while a similar sign states that “Colored [are] seated in rear.” Photos of the racist signage showed them on the floor, not far from a wooden bookshelf lined with dozens of porcelain “mammy” dolls.
“I think it was disbelief at first — that I was actually seeing these signs in a store,” Shanks, who’s mother to an African-American daughter, told CNN in an interview. “It’s something I would expect to see at the Jim Crow museum, not in a local antique store.”
The U.K. native would confront a store employee about the signs and later voiced her concern to store owner Cheryl Dean, who she said told her to “go back to England where you came from” after Shanks asked that she stop selling the racist merchandise.
Dean also refused to remove the signs, arguing that they were in no way racist, local station KDVR reported.
“I’ve lived in a small town my whole life. I don’t even know what the word means,” she told the Denver outlet. “There’s been black people in the store and we laugh about it. There’s people that collect that stuff. It has nothing to do with racism.
“It’s part of history,” Dean added, “like, ‘Look how far we’ve come.'”
The history argument didn’t hold up with Shanks, however.
“That’s the thing she says over and over: ‘It’s history. You’re trying to erase history.’ I shared with her that history belongs in a museum and that these things are made for profit and you’re profiling a very horrible time in this country’s history,” said Shanks, who noted the signs are actually replicas — not antiques.
In the past week, Dean said she’s faced fierce criticism and even threats. Some have called for a boycott of her store altogether, according to KDVR.
“They’re horrible,” Dean said. “They’ve threatened to burn down my store. They’ve threatened to kill me.”
While Shanks doesn’t condone threats or violence, she does support the First Amendment and hoped her push back would cause Dean to have a “change of heart” and a better understanding of why some might consider the signs offensive.
Since the story went viral, Dean said she’s since sold out of the controversial signs and doesn’t plan on ordering any more. Not surprisingly, Dean had a fair share of readers who agreed with her arguments.
Others felt the positive responses were dismissive of those who were impacted during Jim Crow.
Facebook user Derrick Gambrell wrote, “Tell someone who had to experience this type of hatred, that it’s just history. It’s easy to sit behind a cell phone and have little to no emotions as to how something like this could bring back hurtful memories to our elders. I’m sure the people that feel this way donated to the Dylan Roof fund after the church shootings. Smh… But, we live in America. It’s get over it or get out in some peoples weak minds.”