Thursday, May 15, 2008

Curious George publisher may sue over Racist Obama T-shirt

Cobb bar selling shirts combining book character's picture, Obama's name

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 05/13/08
The publishing company that owns the Curious George image says it is considering legal action to stop the sale of a T-shirt depicting Barack Obama as the monkey from children's books.
The T-shirts are being peddled by Marietta bar owner Mike Norman at his Mulligan's Bar and Grill in Cobb County. They show a picture of Curious Georgie peeling a banana, with the words "Obama '08" underneath.

Pam Lindley of Marietta holds up the T-shirt in question as about a dozen people protested outside Mulligan's bar in Marietta Tuesday. They object to the establishment selling a Curious George t-shirt that says 'Obama in '08.' The bar has caused controversy in the past with its billboard messages.

Rick Blake, a spokesman for publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which owns Curious George, said Wednesday that the company didn't authorize the use of the character's image, but hasn't been in touch with anybody selling or manufacturing the shirts.
"We find it offensive and obviously utterly out of keeping with the value Curious George represents," Blake said. "We're monitoring the situation and weighing our options with respect to legal action."
Norman has said he got the T-shirts from someone in Arkansas. He started selling them at his bar -- known for the provocative, ultra-conservative political slogans often posted on signs out front -- in April but said he has no plans to mass market them.
The sales came to light this week when a loose coalition of local groups called a protest of the T-shirts.
About a dozen protestors rallied against the shirts Tuesday afternoon, condemning them as racist and asking Norman to stop selling them.
Norman acknowledged the imagery's Jim Crow roots but said he sees nothing wrong with depicting a prominent African-American as a monkey.
"We're not living in the (19)40's," he said. "Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears -- he looks just like Curious George."
Marietta native Pam Lindley, 47, joined Tuesday's protest after reading about the controversy.
"I don't want people to think this is what Marietta is all about," she added, motioning towards the tavern. "This is what some people think the South is still like. Marietta's come a long way but I guess it's still got a little ways to go."
She said she'd like to see the city ban Norman's provocative musings regularly posted on a sign out front of the bar, which is near Marietta's downtown square. Those who gathered Tuesday say they will continue their campaign against Norman's "hate speech."
But his defenders are just as resolute. Mulligan's is a refuge, they say, in an otherwise hypersensitive world. Smoking isn't only allowed at the bar, it's expected.
"This place is a diamond in the rough," said Gene McKinley, a Woodstock engineer among the patrons Tuesday. "People here are genuine and honest. It's the one place I can go without having to worry if I'm offending someone."
Norman said he fielded calls throughout Tuesday about his T-shirts. An story about the controversy was picked up on the Drudge Report. "One guy in New Jersey wanted me to send him 100 shirts," said Norman, 63.
He said he noted physical similarities between the Democratic frontrunner and the cartoon monkey while watching a Curious George movie with his grandchildren.
Someone -- "probably a customer, I don't know" -- from Arkansas sent him the shirts, Norman said.
The Tennessee native said he's providing a public service of sorts, reminding people they have a right to offend.
"This is my marketing tool," he said. (end)

NOTE: National radio talk show host Attorney Warren Ballentine and other civic leaders are scheduling a rally against these racist tactics and invite people of all races to speak out. Listen to The Warren Ballentine Show for updates at

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