What?! A lynching photograph as restaurant decoration?

It’s not uncommon for restaurants to incorporate black-and-white photographs into their overall interior design and atmosphere. These images can depict any range of events, from periods in local history to sports championships. They are meant to add to a restaurant’s ambiance and support its unique story as a brand, but, in the case of a Joe’s Crab Shack in Minnesota, the restaurant should have paid closer attention to what it was putting on its walls and tables. 

During a recent visit to Joe’s Crab Shack in Roseville, Minnesota, customers Tyrone Williams and Chauntyll Allen discovered that their tabletop had a photo embedded in it that was both shocking and disturbing. The graphic image depicted two black men being lynched by an angry mob. To make matters worse, it had a cartoon speech bubble that read, “All I said was that I didn’t like the gumbo.”

After doing some quick research, the couple learned that the photo was from a real-life execution that occurred in 1896. Given the racial injustice that existed during that period of time, it was typical to pin crimes on black men. Independent of its historical provenance, I think we can all agree that such images have no place in any restaurant.

Mr. Williams and Ms. Allen immediately asked to speak to a manager. He apologized for the photograph but said that it was likely there were similar images in Joe’s Crab Shack locations across the country. Black staffers at the restaurant, who didn’t know the photo was there, were equally appalled. 

It’s truly unbelievable that a national restaurant corporation would display such carelessness and ignorance in using a photograph of a racially-charged execution as decoration. You have to imagine that, at minimum, a team of individuals reviewed the image prior to deciding to use it as restaurant décor. This includes making the further boneheaded move to affix a speech bubble to the image that turned it into a joke. In what world would a person think that making a joke out of a hanging was a good idea? Apparently, in the world of Ignite Restaurant Group, the parent company of Joe’s Crab Shack. 

The Minnesota chapter president of the NAACP called for an apology from the restaurant group.

This disturbing incident that occurred at Joe’s Crab Shack, demonstrates that racism is still alive and well in this country. 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 demand accountability of Joe’s Crab Shack for allowing racist material to appear in its restaurants. This is completely unacceptable.
— Nekima Levy-Pounds, President, NAACP-SaintPaul

The COO of Ignite has since issued an apology, via an email rather than a more genuine public acknowledgement of the company’s mistake. He added that the table with the offending photograph was immediately removed from the restaurant. It, however, appears that this is a truly systemic issue for the company. A recent CNN article about the incident cited stories of other customers who have encountered similar photographs in Joe’s restaurants in California and Florida.

Ultimately, this incident should never have happened in the first place. When such an image was recommended for one of its restaurants, Joe’s Crab Shack employees should have vetoed its selection for all of the reasons described. 

This is truly a lesson for all restaurant owners, operators, and employees. Be careful what you put up in your restaurant and use as decoration. If you even have to question whether a photograph or sign would offend any of your customers, you have your answer right there.