ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A St. Augustine bakery caused a stir Tuesday when one of its employees dressed up as Aunt Jemima for Halloween and came into work wearing blackface.
The costume choice outraged a group of Flagler College students, who showed up at the Bunnery Bakery & Cafe on St. George Street to protest the employee's makeup, chanting "Shut it down. Shut it down."
Students said they made their concerns known to the bakery's management after noticing the getup shortly before 10 a.m. At some point, police were called to escort the group out.
Hasani Malone, 20, is a junior at Flagler. She said she stopped by to explain why she finds the costume offensive, saying it's a stereotypical caricature, and to ask the employee to wipe it off.
"Historically, blackface was used to mimic and mock black people when directors wouldn't hire black actors for movie roles," she said. "They would portray them as ignorant, as lazy."
Pamela Cross, one of the owners of the bakery, told News4Jax she fears her business will be unfairly branded as racist because of the costume. She noted that the employee, who is white, has biracial grandchildren.
"She's a baker," Cross said. "She bakes in the window and thought that would be a really cool costume and she never intended it to be offensive."
The owner added that police were called after black customers came in and caused a commotion inside the store, yelling obscenities and scaring customers away.
But that's not how Malone, who is black, remembers things going. She said bakery staff singled her out when they called police, ignoring the white protesters present.
“As a black woman, I know what Aunt Jemima represents and to see a white woman dressed up in painted blackface, that’s not only offensive to me, but other black women out there," she said. “Blackface is recognized by most people as something ignorant and offensive. For the people who don’t know this, I hope they learn because this is not something that you can just do.”
But not all of those who turned out were there to demonstrate against the costume. Some came to the defense of the business and its employees.
"I'm against this entire protest because people downtown work for a living," said Sydney Hashimoto. "This is Halloween. This is 2017. We've accepted everything."
Bakery employees also spoke up for their co-worker.
"I'm more hurt and upset for my friend because she is a loving and caring person who would never do anything out of spite toward anyone," said employee Ben Douse, who is black. "I feel like it's a major misunderstanding."
Co-worker Xavier Jones, who is also black, said he wasn't offended.
“She told me a couple of days ago that she was going to do it and I thought it was cool," Jones said. "If you're going to get mad about that, there's other things to get mad about in the world right now."
Amanda Bekham, a friend of the woman who dressed up, said her friend is not racist.
"She's not part of the KKK. This whole thing is out of proportion. She just dressed up like her favorite baker," she said. "Had she known it would have ended up like this, she would not have dressed up."
Employees and owners of neighboring businesses said they were upset because the protest brought unwanted attention to St. Augustine's historic district.
The bakery has issued an apology via social media, adding that the employee involved has since removed the makeup: