Replicas of historical signs depicting racial inequality at the Antique Corral south of Cortez have triggered a wave of controversy on social media.
The reproduced signs represent relics of the segregation era and Jim Crow laws that led up to the 1960s civil rights movement.
The signs sold at the store state “Colored Seated in Rear,” “Public Swimming Pool White Only” and “We Serve Colored, Carry Out Only.”
They were documented by store visitor Nicola Shanks of Mancos several months ago.
In an interview, Shanks said she tried to persuade store owner Cheryl Dean to remove the items last week.
Shanks then posted the photos on her Facebook page. The post has been circulated across the nation and has been met with commentary that the signs are racially insensitive and offensive. Colorado and New Mexico news affiliates reported the story.
The store also sells mammy figurines, which historically have portrayed black women as obedient servants to white families.
Dean responded to criticism by saying the merchandise has “been blown out of proportion” by the news media and social media. Friday, she told The Journal the signs are no longer in the large store because she sold them. The large store contains mostly used furniture, antiques, collectibles and a sandwich counter.
“They were just a few on the floor, not posted,” she said. “They are a piece of history, and do not mean it is what I believe. 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.”
Dean said she does not intend to buy and sell the replica signs again, “because of all the stink it has caused.”
The store has been barraged with calls in the past few days, she said.
Dean said the whole episode “has been crazy. My employees and I just want it to go away. I don’t see what any of this accomplishes. You cannot erase history.”
But for Shanks, seeing the signs and figurines was “a shock.” She said selling them in a store was inappropriate because they highlight inequality and discrimination based on race.
“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,” Shanks said. “These should be in a museum.”
The controversy became a social media phenomenon that reached across the country.
Both Dean and Shanks said the Facebook commentary became vicious, hateful and threatening.
“I do not approve of violence or threatening people,” Shanks said. “I want to talk about it with peaceful communication and hope for a change of heart.”
The threats distracted from a conversation in which “we hear each other and try to understand.” Shanks added that she would like to sit down with Dean again to discuss what happened and address the issues.
Dean said she has been personally threatened on social media and has informed the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office about the messages. Antique Corral’s posts defending its position were removed Friday.
A Jan. 15 post on the Antique Corral Facebook page said:
“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!!! 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.”