Owner of Palmetto Cheese apologizes for Facebook post, explains Black woman’s image on packaging

Posted: Sep 4, 2020 / 01:48 PM CDT / Updated: Sep 4, 2020 / 01:48

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PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (WBTW) — The owner of the Palmetto Cheese brand, who is also the mayor of Pawleys Island, apologized Thursday for a racially insensitive Facebook post and explained the branding of his product, which is the target of calls for a boycott.

When posting on Facebook about a man who was charged with shooting and killing two people after a traffic accident in Georgetown, Mayor Brian Henry wrote: “2 innocent people murdered. Not 2 thugs or people wanted on multiple warrants. 2 white people defenselessly gunned down by a black man.  Tell me, where is the outrage? When and where will we begin rioting and burning down businesses in Georgetown.”

Henry also referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a “terror” organization.

“Why do we stand by and allow BLM to lawlessly destroy great American cities and threaten their citizens on a daily basis?” he said in the post. “Should they have a carte blanche license to pillage and destroy? This has gone on too far. Rise up America.”

In a press briefing Thursday, Henry said he was sorry to those he offended and that his comments were hurtful and insensitive.

He said he needed time to self reflect and reach out for dialogue, which provided him with a deeper understanding of racial inequality and the importance of diversity sensitivity.

The controversy also called attention to the branding of Palmetto Cheese, which includes the face of a Black woman on the product’s packaging.

The company will be creating a foundation to honor the memory of Vertrella Brown, Henry said. Brown is the woman pictured on Palmetto Cheese packaging because her image personifies low country cuisine, the mayor said.

“Vertrella Brown began producing batches of Sassy Henry’s recipe in 2003 for delighted guests at Sea View Inn,” according to the company’s website. “And her image personifies the soulful flavor that is embodied in this unique, southern recipe of pimento cheese. And this is why we refer to it as ‘The Pimento Cheese with Soul.’” 

The mayor said they have already started a rebranding effort to be more culturally sensitive.

Some comments on social media suggested that Vertrella created the recipe for Palmetto Cheese which the mayor said is not true.

The company has always had a private compensation contract with Vertrella and her family, Henry said. He wants those who are considering a boycott of the product to consider “the hundreds of South Carolina jobs that depend on its success.”

The Vertrella Brown foundation will be built to improve race relations through community events, provide scholarship opportunities for young people, offer grants to help aspiring entrepreneurs, and assist local food bank programs.

The Georgetown branch of the NAACP is calling for Henry’s resignation as mayor following the Facebook post. Leaders said it was an important opportunity to create unity among the community but Henry chose to do something different. Outrage over crimes in the community is different depending on the race of the accused, one leader said at a news conference on Saturday.

When asked if he has considered resigning, Henry said he was not going to answer any questions.

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