Members of a family that planned a reunion July 21 at Gillum’s Sports Bar and Lounge filed a complaint last week with the Richmond Human Rights Commission claiming they were subjected to racially motivated ill treatment. The restaurant owner denies the claims and says he can prove they are without merit.
Ronda Miller and her husband were on the way to an Embry-Gilbert Family Reunion event at the restaurant when Miller said they were called by a family member who told them to go back to the hotel where the family stayed that weekend. They would hold their celebration there.
“My sister said there had been an incident at Gillum’s,” Miller said.
A few family members called the restaurant ahead of time to make arrangements to rent the catering room and use the restaurant’s audio/video equipment, according to a letter submitted to the Richmond Register by Michelle E. Dabney.
“The trouble started when I went up there and tried to hook up the microphone because we were going to play Family Feud,” said family member Maya Hinton in a telephone interview. “Me and my cousin were standing there and a waitress asked if we needed some help. He (restaurant owner Jeff Gillum) said ‘Back away from my equipment.’ I moved so he could figure out how to plug it up.”
Instead of hooking up the equipment, Gillum reportedly moved two chairs in front of the equipment “to block us from going up there,” Hinton said.
“I went up and asked if he was the owner and if I could talk to him,” she said. “I told him that you came off to me rude and my cousin said you came off to her rude.”
In her letter, Dabney said the incident escalated, including alleged racial slurs about the black family.
“There were several comments that were made in the lounge area by the owner and some of his staff overheard by friends and acquaintances regarding the color of our skin, nooses, trees, gangs and that we probably couldn’t pay anyway,” she wrote.
Gillum said he thinks the racial slurs the family members referred to could have been made by a customer they mistook as the restaurant owner.
“They said the owner was on a cane,” Gillum said of the allegations. “I don’t use a cane. They’re saying this all from hearsay. I can’t be responsible for my customers.”
However, Gillum did admit he had some problems with members of the family reunion party that night. The family was not forced to leave the restaurant. They chose to pay their tab and leave, he said
However, if the complainants can show a hostile atmosphere designed to make members of a protected group feel uncomfortable was created, then a violation of both the Kentucky and federal civil rights acts may have occurred, according to legal experts.
Gillum said he is in no way a racist person. The weekend after the alleged incident, a black couple renewed their vows at his restaurant in a ceremony officiated by the Rev. Robert Blythe, the restaurant owner said.
Blythe, also a Richmond City Commissioner, spoke at a recent commission meeting about reports of an incident in a local restaurant that he said were very disturbing. He later confirmed he was referring to reports of what had occurred during the Embry-Gilbert reunion. Some who attended the reunion are members of his church, First Baptist Church, Francis Street, Blythe said.
“I wasn’t there,” he said of the reunion. “but there are two sides to every story.”
Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@
richmondregister.com or 624-6608.
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