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Duluth store’s MLK sale on everything black backfires

Global Village proprietor Rachel Mock talks Monday about the controversy over a sign advertising a Martin Luther King Jr. Day sale with “25 percent off everything black.” (STEVE KUCHERA/FORUM NEWS SERVICE)

DULUTH — This was the fourth year in a row that Global Village had marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a sale and a sign in its Superior Street window proclaiming: “25 percent off everything black!”

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Rachel Mock, proprietor of the Duluth store, said she had received no complaints in the past, but this year proved a different story, thanks in large part to a social networking firestorm touched off by a Facebook post.

George Ellsworth had come downtown with his 5-year-old daughter, Aina, to join a march in Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor.

“I walked past the sign at first, and I had to go back to make sure I read it correctly. I was incredulous. I didn’t know if it was a prank or what,” he said.

While Ellsworth observed that Global Village has a progressive reputation and a penchant for irreverent humor, he said: “There’s a difference between being whimsical and tasteless.”

Ellsworth, who is African-American, said he posted a picture of the sign to see if his reaction was shared. “Mostly, I just wanted to see what other people thought.”

As Ellsworth’s picture of the sign made the rounds on Facebook on Monday, people’s anger surged, and Mock said she received numerous complaints, both online and via phone.

“I apologize to anyone we offended. I meant it as a celebration of Martin Luther King and a way to honor him because he was a positive black leader,” she said.

Mock said she was caught off guard by the public indignation the store’s sale provoked. She said that Global Village would never hold a Columbus Day sale, because she views the day as a glorification of imperialism. But she questioned why a Martin Luther King Jr. Day sale would stir controversy.

“Does anyone get upset about a Presidents Day sale or a Labor Day sale? Do they make a mockery of the presidency or the labor movement?” she asked.

“Sales happen all the time. I was not attempting to offend anyone,” Mock said.

But Ellsworth said the sale, whether well-intentioned or not, was “so tone deaf.” He was particularly surprised to later see the store’s promotion of the sale on its own Facebook page: “Annual MLK Day BLACK SALE! He showed us that the struggle and lookin’ super fly can go hand in hand. We salute him with 25 percent off everything black, Monday, Jan. 20. Much more our style than a Columbus Day sale, no?”

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