St. George Street, in the heart of downtown St. Augustine, was ready for Halloween.
Spider webs and pumpkins decorated the windows along the street. Store employees in costumes walked the streets. But there was something different this year. A chant rang out:
"No blackface, no KKK, no racist USA."
From late morning until around 4 p.m., Flagler College students crowded outside The Bunnery Bakery & Café, holding signs and protesting the business.
The controversy was set in motion early Tuesday morning when a Flagler College student walked into The Bunnery on St. George Street and was shocked by what she saw behind the counter: a white woman dressed as Aunt Jemima, wearing an apron and a bandana wrapped around her head. But that's not what shocked the student. She was stunned to see that the white woman was in blackface, her face smeared with brown paint, as she baked in front of a window that faced the street.
The student, Courtney Olson, asked the woman to remove her makeup. She says that she was told that the costume wasn't racist, and she would not take the makeup off.
After the confrontation, Olson alerted another student, Hasani Malone, vice president of the Flagler College Black Student Association. Together, they went into the business and demanded the woman remove her makeup.
"She had blackface, which is a stereotype. It was used to mimic and mock black people," Malone said. "They said, 'No, [she wasn't] going to take it off.' They said, 'It's not racist, it's Halloween.'"
When the two refused to leave until the woman removed her makeup, they say the owner of the restaurant called the police, who escorted the young women out.
After being removed from the premises, Malone and Olson took to social media. Soon protestors began to arrive. Over the course of five hours, the group of protestors swelled until eventually St. Augustine police officers arrived to keep an eye on the protests.
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go," the protestors chanted on, led by Malone.
"We did not think that it would turn into this, ever," co-owner Pamela Cross said. The employees of The Bunnery defended their coworker. "She asked if they're OK with it, everybody was fine, everybody that worked here was fine with it," Cross said. Cross also told media that following a confrontation with students, the employee washed the paint off her face.
It seems that every Halloween, a blackface controversy erupts. The practice of white performers putting on blackface began in the era of minstrel shows, during which the performers would typically portray black characters as loud, clumsy, goofy, unintelligent, etc. The practice played a role in spreading racist perceptions worldwide. For many, the concept of portraying skin color as a costume is deeply rooted in racism, as historically it has often been accompanied by exaggerating and demeaning black people physically and otherwise in a mocking caricature.
"I will not apologize for my costume, there was nothing wrong with my actions in the choice of my costume," the baker, who has not been identified, said in a statement to Action News Jax. "I don't understand how this turned into a racial thing. Blackface is not something I expected with trying to just dress up for my job on Halloween."