Noblesville, Ind.—The controversy over soap with racist labels being sold at a Noblesville store continues. In addition to those who are offended by the store selling these items, there is also growing support for the vendor who has been ordered to take the soaps off the shelves or face eviction.
Are they just a light-hearted look at history or not? General Store owner Gary Dewester remains steadfast neither the soaps nor himself, are in any way racist.
After hearing about the soap, Carolyn Gentner bought two bars including one labeled "Kolored Kids."
"I don't think they're offensive, I think they're nostalgic," she told Fox59 News. "I believe if this is going to be an issue, we should be in Kroger for selling Aunt Jemima syrup."
Supporters tell us they want people to see the soap and Gary's store for what it is: trinkets of American History for sale.
Clay Hicks is a student at IU and knows the Dewesters personally. He spoke to Fox59 via Skype Thursday:
"They're good people and they've never shown any signs of racism before that any of us have seen," he said. "The soaps are antiques. He owns an antique store. If he had gone home and made the soaps and wrote racist things on them in his basement and then tried to sell them, that would be a different story but these are antiques."
Gary's many supporters have posted comments on the Fox59 Facebook Fan Page. It's been a hot topic for the past several days.
Courtney Van Velse writes: "We live in a free country where we can buy and sell as we wish, if we took everything off the market that offended someone, we'd probably not have many things left!"
Cameron Tragesser emailed us and said: "Our recent story covering the "racist" soap in Noblesville was revolting in every aspect. This soap was a replica-antique as are many other items in the store. Real Black Americana pieces are growing in value thanks to celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and Spike Lee amassing huge collections. It's led to an escalation of prices--- in the thousands---for just authentic items of African American History."
Gary says he's now sold out of the soaps. After hearing about the story, people have driven as far as two hours from Evansville and down from South Bend to buy. Gary said a black woman bought his last nine bars, calling the soap "funny" and "cute."
At Ferris State University in Michigan, there's a Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia showcasing dolls, black minstrels, those familiar jockey figurines and yes, Black Americana soaps. Refusing to bow to pressure, Gary has vowed to move out of the Logan Village Mall. Other shopkeepers say they are now concerned they'll lose business because Gary's store was such a draw. The controversy continues.
State Senator Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who owns the Logan Village Mall released this statement:
"The soaps are out of the Logan Village Mall. We have explained to Gary the items don't fit into general feel of the stores and the kinds of items sold there. He is a good vendor for us and we hope to work things out and that he will stay. We have told him we have no problem with him selling the soaps on the internet or through another means just not in the mall in Noblesville."
Fox59 spoke to two national experts Thursday on Black Americana and both tell me these kinds of soaps with these labels NEVER ever existed in our history. These aren't reproductions but what are called "fantasy items" printed purely for profit. One antique dealer in Atlanta we spoke to has sold to Whoopi Goldberg authentic items. He says he can totally understand why people would be offended by these kinds of made up soaps being sold for profit.