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Black Group Offended by Delivery of Obama T-Shirt

UPDATE: On Sunday, The Sleuth heard from the person who created the monkey t-shirt and sent one to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in Washington, as well as to other black organizations listed on the back of the shirt. His name is Kelly Newcom of Ash Flat, Ark., who insists, "“It'’s not a racial thing.”"

“"I was extremely vexed over the fact that individuals who have no idea who I am and no idea what my motives were to sit and accuse me of being a racist,"” Newcom said in an e-mail, adding, "“I am far from it and I care not what race, sex, or religion a person is.”"

Newcom, who makes t-shirts for Spring River Tees, said in a subsequent telephone interview that he also sent four of the shirts in question to Barack Obama'Â’s former church, the United Church of Christ in Chicago. He also said he plans to vote for John McCain this fall.

Newcom made the shirts, he says, to protest what he sees as a disparity between minority organizations and white groups. "“Why are the minority groups allowed to have these organizations? Just let a white organization be formed and it causes an uproar. Just try finding a white one on the net, listen to the crickets chirp.”"

Newcom also said the monkey, which looks identical to Curious George, has a bag over his head "“hiding his face so as not to get confused with some other form of artwork which he may or may not resemble."” He said the bag is "“not some lynching bag or any other crazy idea that once again, people who want to be offended, will read into it.”"

There's something about Newcom's argument that reminds us an awful lot of Harriet Christian, who, if you haven't already seen the video, can be seen here giving her racial rant at the Democratic National Committee's Rules & Bylaws committee's meeting nine days ago.

Original Post From Friday:

The president of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is disturbed by an offensive t-shirt the group received in the mail Wednesday, the day after Barack Obama claimed his party's presidential nomination. The shirt has a cartoon image of Curious George, the beloved children's character, with a paper bag over his head holding a sign that says "A Truth We Can Believe in '08!!!" written underneath.

CBCF President Elsie Scott says she believes the timing of the package was no coincidence. "We received it as a reaction to Obama winning the nomination," she tells the Sleuth.

The t-shirt was made by a company called Spring River Tees, which also on its Web site sells "Obama in '08" t-shirts that depict Curious George. The "truth-we-can-believe-in" t-shirt that the CBCF received is also sold on the web site, titled "Hussein," which is Obama's middle name.


This t-shirt, which arrived by mail at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation from an anonymous source, lists several black organizations - as well as the Ku Klux Klan - and asks: "Who is really causing the racial division?"

Scott said she found the t-shirt "offensive" and when she looked more closely at the back of it, she became "very disturbed" and reported the contents of the package to the hate crimes unit of the D.C. Metropolitan Police.

The back of the shirt lists several African American organizations, ranging from the CBCF and the NAACP to the Black Surfers Association, the Black Coaches Association and Obama's former church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It prints the United Nations' definition of "racial discrimination" and states, underneath the listing of all the black organizations, "Who is really causing the Racial Division."

The t-shirt also says: "There are over 1,000 African American, Hispanic and other minority organizations in America. How many white organizations can you find? Or can you imagine what would happen every time one was made?"

Mingled with the listing of the numerous black organizations is the Ku Klux Klan and two Hispanic groups. "To be put in the same category with the KKK is insulting to me," Scott says.

The Curious George imagery in connection with Obama has already sparked outrage nationally. As the Chicago Tribune reported last month, the "Obama in '08" Curious George t-shirts have prompted possible legal action by Houghton Mifflin, the publisher of the popular children's book series.

The company, according to the Tribune, was considering action against a Marietta, Ga., bar owner who was selling "Obama in '08" t-shirts depicting Curious George peeling a banana. "Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did not nor would we ever authorize or approve this use of the Curious George character, which we find offensive and utterly out of keeping with the values Curious George represents," a spokesman for the publishing house told the Tribune.

CBCF spokeswoman Muriel Hairston-Cooper, the spokeswoman for the CBCF, noted that the timing of the t-shirt's delivery also coincided with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, "very strange."

It's unclear who sent the t-shirt. Cooper said whomever opened the mail on Wednesday didn't save the envelope, so they don't have the postmark information. An email to Spring River Tees asking about the delivery of the t-shirt went unanswered.

Scott, who grew up in Louisiana, said tells us she was particularly offended that the monkey on the t-shirt had a bag over its head. She says it reminded her of lynchings.

"Maybe I was reading too much into it, but coming from the South and being the daughter of a civil rights leader, it rubbed me the wrong way," she said.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  June 6, 2008; 4:46 PM ET
 
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