It’s not what you expect to see on the table when you go out for a nice seafood dinner at a local franchise restaurant: a photo of a black man being lynched in 1895.
You furthermore don’t expect to see a cartoon caption on it making light of the situation.
This is exactly what Chauntyll Allen and Tyrone Williams saw when they went to the Roseville, Minnesota location of Joe’s Crab Shack on Wednesday evening. The couple was there to celebrate a friend’s birthday but felt anything but celebratory after being seated at their table. Embedded in the table was a vintage photograph with the caption “Hanging in Groesbeck, Texas on April 12, 1895.”
Apparently, someone thought it would be just fine to use the picture by adding a “cute” comment in a cartoon balloon saying “All I said was I didn’t like the gumbo.”
Oh, yes, right, how clever. Ha ha ha ha. That really makes a big difference, especially to people of color. Mmm hmmmm.
The couple were sickened by the photo and complained to the manager who apologized and offered them free dinners.
Willliams said, “Although the manager was apologetic about the lynching depiction, that does not change the fact that this sickening image of black men being lynched was intentionally embedded inside of a table. This type of blatant racism should not be tolerated in this country, or in our local and national eating establishments. I have felt sick to my stomach and stressed out since seeing that image on the table where I was planning to eat my food.”
Allen added, “Seeing a picture of two black men being lynched was the last thing that I expected to see at what was supposed to be a family-friendly restaurant.”
The image was originally posted onto social media by Williams, with this statement:
“This is on our table at Joe’s Crab shack in Roseville, MN it’s the lynching of two black men in Groesbeck, Texas in 1895 they we’re accused of robbing and murdering a white man with a rock it’s sad this is the image we have to look at in a Crab shack that has nothing to do with Texas it’s crazy how a brother can’t get a break me and Chauntyll Allen can’t get a break lol we just wanted some all you can eat Crab legs smh and now we got to go. We can’t take this shit no mo.”
He decided to make the picture public and added this statement to the picture: “Any supporters that want to come and stand with us for a press release about the offensive images we saw at Joe’s Crab shack in Roseville, MN we will be there at 3pm”
Allen and Williams were backed up at Thursday’s press conference by Pastor Danny Givens of the Above Every Name Ministries and Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP. Levy-Pounds is also a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The latter demanded a public apology from the restaurant chain and its owner, the Ignite Restaurant Group, as well as requesting they make a healthy donation to a local community-based organization that serves African American youth.
Levy-Pounds issued a statement saying, “”It is sickening to know that someone would make a mockery of black men being savagely lynched and then use that imagery for decorative purposes in a restaurant.”
“We would never walk into any franchise establishment and see jokes distributed [about] the Holocaust,” said Pastor Givens.
Yet someone thought it would be perfectly fine to use a lynching image as décor in a restaurant, particularly one of a national chain.
The image in question did indeed occur in Groesbeck, Texas on April 12, 1895, according to public records. Richard Burleson, a black man, had been accused of the robbery and murder of James Garrett McKinnon, a white man, who had been robbed and then bludgeoned with a stone in May, 1894. Burleson was tried and convicted, but often in those days a rush to convict a black person in a crime against a white person resulted in the arrest and prosecution of individuals who were not guilty by using false evidence and questionable witness accounts. This was even more so in the case of capital crimes such as murder. Whether this was the case with Burleson is not known.
Nowhere in the actual account of the trial and hanging of Richard Burleson is there any mention of gumbo.
Chauntyll Allen said in disgust, “I don’t understand why they think this is some kind of joke, the trauma that we endured on our black bodies.”
The city of Roseville, Minnesota issued a statement on Friday, saying:
“The City of Roseville was shocked and saddened to learn of the racist imagery being openly displayed at the Roseville location of national restaurant chain Joe’s Crab Shack.
The City condemns this type of display in the strongest possible terms and calls on Joe’s Crab Shack to remove any and all racist imagery not only from its Roseville location, but all of its restaurants nationwide immediately.
This type of display is wholly unacceptable and unwelcome in the City of Roseville.”
This was a more extensive statement than the three-sentence one issued by Ignite president David Catalano: “We understand one of the photos used in our table decor at our Joe’s Crab Shack location in Roseville, MN was offensive. We take this matter very seriously, and the photo in question was immediately removed. We sincerely apologize to our guests who were disturbed by the image and we look forward to continuing to serve the Roseville community.”
The table with the offensive image has been removed from the Roseville location, but Joe’s has locations in 32 states. It is unclear whether this image is being used in any other of their restaurants.