A second blackface incident has surfaced in Duluth a week after a video went viral showing two women in facial masks making disparaging remarks about African Americans.
Adam Stoningpot of Duluth says he was trying to open a discussion on race by "taking a risk" and dressing as a minstrel in blackface at Pizza Luce this Halloween.
But that intent was lost on others, with staff and customers telling Stoningpot he wasn't welcome at the Technology Village bar and restaurant. Despite that, he stayed until closing time, one bouncer said.
"He stayed there the entire night," bouncer Eric "Heiko" Edwardson said by text message to the News Tribune of Stoningpot, an overnight cleaner at the establishment. "He left after everyone else had gone. I think he got the idea that some people were waiting for him outside."
Stoningpot, who remains employed at Pizza Luce, was later disciplined for wearing the costume, manager Paige Doty said. She wouldn't discuss the details of the discipline and added that she is looking into the actions of the manager on duty that night, who could have forced Stoningpot to leave immediately.
Stoningpot told the News Tribune he hadn't been aware that there was a problem. He said Doty told him after the incident that his costume was considered harassment. He disagreed.
"I was just wearing a costume," he said on Wednesday, explaining that he was trying to open conversation about race that night -- something "people don't talk about."
When asked if any race discussions came up, he said there were a few with friends who talked to him at the bar.
He also said he wasn't costumed as a black person.
"I was dressed as a white person playing a character," he said.
Blackface was the term for the makeup actors -- usually white -- used in minstrel shows and vaudeville to portray African Americans in mostly stereotypical ways. It was considered hurtful and racist by the time of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, and the practice has faded from public view.
Stoningpot insisted Wednesday that he was merely playing a historical character.
"If you forget the past you are bound to repeat it," he said.
When asked if he thought about the impact his costume would have on people of color, he said he understood that his dress could be considered offensive.
"I wasn't going out to piss people off," he said. "I understood it was a side effect."
A group of community activists penned a letter to Pizza Luce's management asking about the incident. It was signed by Henry Banks of Duluth, who said three others helped write the document.
The letter asked whether Stoningpot had been disciplined and whether he was asked to publicly apologize. It also asked for details on what steps would be taken to avoid any similar incidents in the future.
"Is Pizza Luce aware of the pain this incident has already exacted on African American citizens in particular but all Duluth residents in general?" the letter asked.
The letter requested a meeting with top management at the restaurant and with JJ Haywood, CEO of the Twin Cities-based chain.
Haywood, who is African American, said she intends to meet with Banks and others by the end of the week.
"Let me assure you that this incident was taken seriously by management at both Pizza Luce Duluth and by me as the top leader and one of the owners of Pizza Luce," Haywood e-mailed Banks.
"As an African-American woman, I absolutely agree that it is shocking and unacceptable for someone to don blackface in this day and age."
Both sides told the News Tribune they would like to meet before talking further about the incident in the newspaper.
Haywood wrote briefly about Halloween night in her e-mail to Banks. Both she and Doty, the Duluth manager, insisted that Stoningpot left the restaurant earlier than others who were at the party reported.
"On the night in question, this employee was asked by both the manager on duty and security to leave the premise due to the offensive nature of his costume," she wrote. "After about 20 minutes or so the employee did leave. Even though this incident occurred while this employee was off the clock, and on his own free time, we still believed it warranted serious attention, and since it did occur at our restaurant, it provided us with grounds to take further action, and that employee has been disciplined."
Stoningpot said Pizza Luce doesn't deserve to be attacked over his choice of costume.
Ben Butter was at the restaurant that night and said he felt his ire rising each minute that Stoningpot sat in the bar. He eventually went up to him and took his picture.
"It seemed to me that people had largely chosen happy or funny costumes over the dark, scary, political and creepy," Butter said about that night. "The exception to that walked into a packed bar and quickly drew every eye in the room. Apparently oblivious to the vast majority of the crowd glaring bullets in his direction, he posed for pictures with unsmiling and tense people and willingly gave his name to all who asked."
Butter confirmed the stern reaction.
"He was warned by the bouncers, waitstaff and concerned customers but chose to stay," Butter said, adding he left because he was so bothered by Stoningpot's costume.
Edwardson, the bouncer, was working the door that night and said he and another bouncer asked Stoningpot to go home and change his costume.
"We both strongly recommended that he go change it," Edwardson told the News Tribune. "He actually was clueless about the costume -- and still is."
Allen Richardson, an activist in Duluth, saw the photo his friend Butter took of Stoningpot on a stranger's Facebook post and said Wednesday that after reading the comments he was "surprised by the number of people who wanted to give the guy a pass."
He said he didn't want to see Stoningpot fired but would be interested in hearing about his intentions in wearing the costume.
"We do not rub the raw wounds of our racial legacy without being called out on it," Richardson said.