MLK and Penzey’s

Penzey’s began in 1957 as a husband-wife coffee and spice shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Twenty-nine years later, William and Ruth Ann Penzey’s son, William, Jr. began the company’s mail-order business. The company has grown and today has retail stores throughout the country.

Penzey’s Spices recognized the fifty-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s murder by being closed. Here is text of e-mail Bill, Jr. sent to their customers.

In the early evening of April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was taken from us by the forces of racism. For Penzeys, April 4, 2018 just doesn’t seem like a day for business as normal, so we are giving our people a paid day off and closing our stores and call center for the day. I apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause our customers, but in a time where the same forces that took Dr. King have re-emerged to take control of the highest offices in our country, this just does not seem like the year to look the other way.

At the heart of cooking is the belief that when we care about others the world becomes a better place, that through kindness and compassion better futures can be set in motion. Even if this new wave of racism stopped today there would still be a great deal of healing to be done and Cooks would once again be the ones to do it. As a Cook, your kindness and compassion really are the glue keeping this world together. Right now our country and the world needs what you do more than it has in a long time.

All forms of hate are destructive, but there is something particularly soul-crushing about the hate that is racism. That it should be surging once again in the 21st century 50 years after Doctor Martin Luther King’s murder is tough to take. If there’s any silver lining to today’s racism, it’s that those with power and privilege who choose to fan the flames of racism know they can no longer do it openly. In King’s time it was those fighting racism that needed to be ever vigilant. These days, at least for now, it’s those promoting racism that realize their need for discretion because they know that so many would see their views as monstrous, especially the young.

Today as we remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, with how incredibly sad that day was, there will be the urge to say that this is just about Memphis and just about 50 years ago. Please resist that urge. With the open racism that has taken hold of the modern Republican Party, this anniversary is very much about today, and very much about all our back yards. Especially ours.

At Penzeys our locations straddle both Milwaukee and Waukesha counties here in Wisconsin. Milwaukee is a wonderfully rich in diversity community. Waukesha is where most all the families who felt the need to flee that diversity ended up. Both communities are full of kind, decent people, but Waukesha still has a smaller contingent crossing all classes that are very much there for the racism. Mostly it’s kept out of sight, but at times you catch glimpses and it’s never pleasant to see.

So many have worked so hard in Waukesha to move things forward, and they are making progress every day, but there are still those fighting to keep out diversity in any way they can. A few months back, Memphis brilliantly orchestrated the removal of two confederate war statues from city parks. The next night our family attended a Waukesha school event where we witnessed the extended family who sat down in front of us share their disgust at the statues’ removal. They kept their voices low, but their anger radiated. I just don’t get how people with so much privilege can see goodness in being so hurtful to those facing so many obstacles. Change needs to come now.

Ever since our Cooking Trumps Racism email and Facebook post after the presidential election, I’ve received tens of thousands of emails from people sharing their experiences and thoughts on racism. Somewhere in reading those letters it occurred to me that maybe there’s a quicker way forward on racism. Up until now it’s only been those on the receiving end of racism that end up having to pay its considerable costs. As long as those doing the racism pay no price it’s going to continue. What if instead of turning a blind eye to those doing racism we took a conservative approach and asked those responsible to pay the costs of their actions?

One thing I’ve noticed about Cooks over the years that I think plays into why they have more positive outcomes in their lives, is that Cooks tend to be optimists. As a Cook myself, I look at the recent student-led activism in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and see in the leadership of this new generation such hope. Not just for pragmatic gun control, but for the environment and for all forms of discrimination as well. This whole not accepting Fox’s apology until they take responsibility for what they’ve done seems to be a blending of the best of both the liberal and conservative traditions. In these young people I see so much hope for the future.

And once again, sorry to everyone who takes time out of their day to visit one of our stores or calls our call center only to find we are closed. What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has meant to all that is good about this country is too much to not try to, in some way, show respect. Please, if you can today and in the coming days, give thought to Dr. King and all those who sacrificed so much to move equality forward in America. They paid so much to make this country great. Now is no time to slide back off the Mountaintop. Now is the time to reach for the summit.

The Lorraine Motel

lorraineMotelI’ve visited Memphis several times in the past few years. Beale Street has lately been spiffed up to be more attractive to tourists, Disneyfied, if you will. Sun Studios and Graceland draw crowds. W.C. Handy’s home on Beale, though not as grand as Elvis’s, is still open to visitors.

On Mulberry Street, less than a mile from Mr. Handy’s home and the $350-a-night Beale Street Westin Hotel, is the National Civil Rights Museum, formerly the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered there on April 4, 1968.

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