Community members held a rally Saturday to support a chocolate shop owner who faced backlash for putting up a sign that says “Burn a rebel flag, get a free chocolate,” after a group waved Confederate flags outside his shop.
Matthew Shepherd, who owns Matthew’s Chocolates in Hillsborough, N.C, called the police to address the demonstrations on July 27, according to CBS 17. However, after the police declined to take action — claiming that the group has the freedom to be there — the chocolate shop owner wrote out the controversial sign.
What was intended to be a joke had a much bigger impact than Shepherd anticipated. “Just a little laugh, all it was and then death threats started pouring in from all over Texas and just everywhere,” he told CBS 17.
In a Facebook post on July 27, Tom Stevens, the mayor of Hillsborough, affirmed Shepherd’s concerns, explaining that while the “flaggers” have the freedom to wave the flag, it is still “shameful and offensive.”
“For more than a century and well within living memory, the confederate flag has been a banner of oppressive intimidation and hateful behavior,” his post reads. “Wanting the battle flag to represent ‘heritage’ doesn’t change [the] fact that flagging is a shameful, hateful, offensive, racist behavior - regardless of intention.”
Locals took to the comments section and shared personal encounters they’ve had with Confederate flag demonstrators.
“Two Saturdays ago, I was carrying boxes of my art from my parking place in front of Purple Crow to the Hillsborough Arts Council. When I tried to cross the street, the people with the confederate flags (about 10 of them) were waving their big flags in my face, standing close together on the sidewalk and the edge of the road, and yelling loudly at the few silent counter-protesters on the opposite corner,” one person wrote. “I felt fearful of their angry demeanor, and it was dangerous for me to have to walk in the street to get around them. I considered dialing 911. Can the police intervene in a case such as mine?”
Another person said the demonstrations are disruptive for local children too and commented: “My son saw them as I was driving him to basketball. He was upset and confused. He is 9.”
Steve Marley, one of the Confederate flag bearers posted on Facebook on July 31st about “setting the record straight,” denying that the group was in front of Shepherd’s shop or that they were rude to community members.
“First of all we have been bombarded from the left-wing liberals saying false accusations on how we block people from walking on the sidewalks and we hit people with our flags and that we are rude to the locals of Hillsborough and the visitors,” his post reads. “Well I’m here to say that it’s false and that we politely move when people approach and my words are ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir, have a good day.’ Unless they want to carry on with a polite conversation, which happens 80% of the time. We are nowhere near his business door.”
Things took a positive turn for Shepherd over the weekend. According to CBS 17, locals held a rally on Saturday to support the business owner. So many people purchased chocolates that the shop sold out, and Shepherd announced in a Facebook post that he couldn’t keep up and Matthew’s Chocolates would remain closed on Sunday.
“Thank you ALL for your support, it is overwhelming and I am touched by the love and support pouring in from all over the state,” the shop-owner wrote. “Thank you again!”
Even though he sold out, Shepherd tells the North Carolina channel that he didn’t put up the sign to make money, and didn’t expect his small action to escalate.
“I didn’t do this to make money. This was not even in my realm of thinking,” he told CBS 17. “I was in Home Depot the other day and I got two fist bumps and a high five from people I don’t even know. They’re like a way to go, fight the fight, we’re all behind you. I’m like I just put a sign out it was there for an hour.”
Representatives from the Hillsborough police department, Tom Stevens and Matthew Shepherd did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment.
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