Restaurant signs spark controversy

Mamma Nem's original logo
Mamma Nem's original logo

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The signs outside Mamma Nem's restaurant on the Eastern Boulevard have Beverly Williams asking one question.

"Why take us back to the Jim Crow south with this representation?"

The image that used to grace the restaurant was one of a real African American woman with an antique frame around her portrait.

But owners claim they needed a new look to attract business.

"It was never intended to be anything derogatory," says Mamma Nem's owner, Dee Parks.

It's not much of an attraction for Williams.

"Black women do cook and we get it.  We get it from the name Mamma Nem's. It is a soul food restaurant. I don't think they have to keep driving that point home with reiterating Mammy and slavery."

Williams believes the new graphic looks too similar to images that circulated during the time of slavery-- a black woman often referred to as "Mammy"--who looked happy being a slave, but inside, really wasn't.

However, owners say that's not what they had in mind. They just wanted an image to convey their soul food cuisine.

"It's just a mother who prepares food for her family and friends--that's what it embodies," adds Parks.

In fact, that mother is her.

"If you look closely, she has a mole right where mine is. So it's actually a depiction of me inviting people to our home to eat our food."

"It's really not anything that says we're still in the cotton fields or anything like that," says Lorenzo Gosey.

Gosey believes the image celebrates African American contributions to cooking.

"It's not anything they're doing wrong.  It's embracing our history, our heritage."

Still Williams doesn't see it that way.

"I don't identify with her. If they want to identify with me put a picture of a family there."

Owners say the signs will stay up for now.

But, they welcome other opinions and even mentioned holding a roundtable discussion about it inside their restaurant.

Despite the mixed feelings, owners say they have seen a boost in business ever since the signs went up.

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