‘White Only’ signs for sale at an antique store spark outrage as owner refuses to remove them

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A Colorado antique shop is facing intense backlash for selling Jim Crow Era ‘White Only’ signs and refusing to remove them from sale. 

Nicola Shanks was browsing through the aisles in Antique Corral of Cortez, Colorado, when she stumbled upon several signs and merchandise that she described as racist. 

Signs reading ‘Public Swimming Pool–White Only’,’Colored Seated In Rear’ and ‘We Serve Colored Carry Out Only,’ were placed near a bookshelf that appeared to hold ‘mammy’ figurines that historically display African American women as nursemaids for white children. 

The signs were a result of the segregationist Jim Crow laws that plagued the U.S., but mainly southern states, for over eight decades 

Shanks, a stay-at-home mother with an African American daughter, was taken aback by the Antique Corral’s controversial stock.

‘I think it was disbelief at first, that I was actually seeing these signs in a store. It’s something I would expect to see at the Jim Crow museum, not in a local antique store,’ she told CNN. 

Shanks expressed her concerns to a store employee and asked to speak with the owner, Cheryl Dean, to request the merchandise be removed. 

After several attempts to contact Dean about the signs, she finally met the owner last week after seeing the items were still on display.

During the 15-minute conversation, Dean refused to back down and said the items, which were revealed to be replicas, were not racist in nature. 

Dean said: ‘I’ve lived in a small town my whole life. I don’t even know what the word means. 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, like, ‘Look how far we’ve come”.’ 

Dean also maintains that the signs and other memorabilia are historical.  

‘They were just a few on the floor, not posted. They are a piece of history, and do not mean it is what I believe,’ Dean told The Journal. 

‘Are spurs banned next because they hurt a horse. Where does it stop? If you don’t like my store, you don’t have to come here. I don’t like marijuana, so I don’t go in those stores,’ she added.

In response, Shanks said the items are inappropriate for their ties to racial inequality and are more apt for a museum.

‘I decided to speak up. There are lots of things historical, but I don’t think they all need to be sold to make a profit off. These should be in a museum,’ said Shanks. 

Shanks says Dean told her to ‘go back to England where I came from’ and continued to sell the items after the conversation. 

However, the small town confrontation soon turned into a viral controversy after photos of the signs were shared on social media. 

People have begun leaving one-star reviews and disparaging messages on the store’s now deleted Facebook page. 

Dean, who’s owned the store for 15 years, says she’s also received death threats and comments saying her store would be burned down. 

While Shanks stands firm in her condemnation of the signs, she doesn’t approve of the hateful speech directed at Dean.

‘I do not approve of violence or threatening people. I want to talk about it with peaceful communication and hope for a change of heart,’ she said.

Shanks is afraid the sudden online attention the incident attracted has distracted from a conversation in which, ‘we hear each other and try to understand.’

On her part, Shanks would be willing to meet with Dean again to address the issues and discuss what happened.

In a Facebook post, Dean revealed the signs have since been sold. 

‘For all you people so worried about the 2-3 signs I sell in my store, I’m happy to report they are not there anymore!!!. They all sold today with all the advertising!!!’ she said.

‘Thanks. Had a great day at my store. There will be no more response to any negative comments. All have been reported for harassment. Thanks again.’

However, she’s not keen on restocking the items, ‘because of all the stink it has caused.’  

This latest confrontation continues an ongoing conversation about the place of historical figures and items with overtones of racial inequality in modern society. 

Over the last several years, statues honoring Civil War Commander Robert E. Lee and other similar individuals have been met with opposition.

Earlier this year, students at a Virginia law school asked the administration to remove portraits of ‘controversial’ figures George Washington and Robert E. Lee from their graduation diplomas. 

Washington’s role as a slaveholder and Lee’s position as a Confederate soldier have marred their reputation among individuals. 

The debate has also become a hot topic on university and college campuses.  

The University of California, Berkeley School of Law removed benefactor John Henry Boalt from four buildings and other references around campus.

Boalt was removed due to his fierce support of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

Florida State University in Tallahassee has received requests to remove Florida Supreme Court Justice B.K. Roberts from its law school.

Roberts resisted integration policies and worked to deny admission of a black student into the once segregated law school.   

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