'White History Month' sign stirs up Flemington
Print Rick Epstein | Hunterdon County Democrat By Rick Epstein | Hunterdon County Democrat
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on March 04, 2015 at 1:45 PM, updated March 05, 2015 at 7:29 AM
White History Month Jim Boggess
Jim Boggess of Jimbo's Deli exercises his right to express himself.
Rick Epstein | Hunterdon County Democrat
FLEMINGTON -- The sign in the deli window says, "CELEBRATE YOUR WHITE HERITAGE IN MARCH, WHITE HISTORY MONTH."
Jim Boggess, proprietor of Jimbo's Deli on Main at 22 Main St., says, "No matter what you are -- Muslim, Jewish, black, white, gay, straight -- you should be proud of what you are. I shouldn't have to feel bad about being white."
But a neighbor and former customer, Bhakti Curtis, who is bi-racial, doesn't accept that. He said the sign, is "mocking Black History Month," especially the way the T was crossed in "WHITE." The cross piece was not right at the top, it was lower down, in a style used by the Ku Klux Klan and other white-power groups, Curtis said. That cross piece of the T has since been broadened to make it a more traditional, if top-heavy, capital T.
On March 3, Curtis saw the sign, told Boggess it offended him, but got no satisfaction. So he filed a complaint with the Flemington police. Detective Sgt. William Svard said Cpl. Louis Hribik's report indicates that Curtis said the sign is "racist," that he felt harassed by it and wanted to know what would be done about it.
Hribik went to Jimbo's, looked at the sign, spoke with Boggess and decided that the sign wasn't derogatory or racist and that no further police action was needed.
Boggess agrees with that assessment and believes he's lawfully exercising his right of free expression. He keeps a copy of the Bill of Rights in his establishment for ready reference.
He said reaction to the sign has been mixed. Lots of people have been photographing his sign with their phones and giving him a thumbs-up. But others have objected, including someone from the Business Improvement District who asked him to take it down, he said.
Another critic of the sign is John Puckett, owner of the Main Street Bagel Co. a couple doors away. He said the sign is "an embarrassment" to Flemington "and makes us look like a town full of inbreds."
Boggess said, "If there's any racial discrimination going on, it's by people who are objecting to his sign "because I'm white." He said that while other groups have their own celebrations, "I just want to be included. Why is this such a big deal? I don't get it."
He said, "I love everybody and everybody should celebrate what they are."
But Curtis is not feeling the love. "A business can't go putting racist signs in the window because everybody has a right to go in that store. Everybody! And have a right to buy something from that man and not feel demoralized or degraded."
He said that racial parity has not yet been achieved, as evidenced, for example, by the recent shootings nationwide of unarmed black men by police.
Boggess notes that he didn't invent White History Month; it has its own website, which celebrates it in April. "But I'm having it in March," he said.
So is the sign staying up? Boggess said on Wednesday, March 4, he'd leave it up for as long as he can, "but I'm getting a lot of pressure."
That same morning, Curtis encountered Sgt. Svard and Police Chief George Becker in Cocco's Cafe and asked them about the case. The conversation got unpleasant. Afterward Curtis went to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office to file a complaint that he had been unfairly threatened with arrest. "You can't use authority like that," he said.
Because of the involvement of the Prosecutor's Office, Svard said he could not comment yet on what transpired at Cocco's.
Curtis observed about the Cocco's episode, "I'm big and black and have a loud voice. But that's not against the law." Curtis is determined to stand up for himself and continue his exploration of what is and isn't against the law. On Wednesday morning, he said he was going to see a lawyer to talk about whether his civil rights have been violated by the police and by the sign.
For the record, although Curtis has a problem with White History Month, he is part white. "I'm black, Irish and Polish," he said, "but I look black. I grew up in a white family, and I love white people. I just hate racism."
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