Keith Gibson, center in straw hat, was joined by protesters at the Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken restaurant on Vine Street in Hartwell on Sunday. Photo by Michelle Rosemond

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Protesters were out at the Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken restaurant on Vine Street in Hartwell on Sunday afternoon, seeking answers as to why a longtime customer wasn’t served first, after being first in line when the restaurant opened. The customer, Keith Gibson, who is Black, was also asked to leave the restaurant that day.

“I just don’t know what happened from, ‘I’m going to tell you that I’m the first in line,’ to, ‘Don’t serve him. Don’t take his money. He can’t eat here,’ ” Gibson said.

Gibson, 56, said the incident happened three weeks ago on June 6, and he and his supporters have protested twice since then. A third protest was held at the store Wednesday.

As a 30-year employee of the city of Cincinnati’s sanitation department, Gibson’s lunch break is short, so he said he tries to get there early before the restaurant opens.

He and a co-worker stopped there every Wednesday just before the restaurant opened to get the special, he said. While he was standing there, a White customer came up about the time employees opened the door. He proceeded to the cashier and the manager, who is White, told the cashier to wait on the White customer, because he was first in line and was picking up a big order to go.

Gibson said he complained, threw his hands into the air and turned his back on the manager so he would not be confrontational. The manager turned to the cashier and told her not to wait on Gibson.

Gibson said he left the restaurant in tears and called his cousin Michelle Rosemond, the daughter of Betty Rosemond, a former Freedom Rider who lives in Cincinnati. His cousin said her mother advised him to call Lee’s corporate headquarters, which he did.

After a corporate official talked to the manager, the person there called Gibson telling him there are always two sides to a conflict and informed him the manager said he was cursing at him, but that they would service his order at the drive thru window. He informed the corporate official that he was not cursing and to view the security camera video to verify that.

“I’m not racist,’’ Gibson said. “I have been talking to a lot of White people and Black people who are saying it’s a racial problem. I’m not saying that, I love everybody. I don’t get that. Somewhere you have to draw the line and something went wrong somewhere.”

He said an apology from the manager, owner or corporate offices would have settled the whole matter, but it never came. Until then, he said he does not plan to patronize a Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken restaurants again.

“What would make this right, is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “But right now it’s like I don’t know even what it’s going to take to make it right, because I’m still trying to find out what really went on.”

Gibson is a father, grandfather and friend to many.

Rosemond said her cousin is an upstanding member of the community, has never been in trouble and is the type of person who would do anything for anyone.

The incident has gone viral on social media outlets.

In April, Gibson and a diverse group of nine other city sanitation workers were sent by the city of Cincinnati City to ceremonies in Memphis, Tennessee, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was there at in 1968 to lead striking sanitation workers.

“What I heard and saw there that weekend prepared me for such things as this,’’ Gibson said. “I have always been a peaceful man, but now I am prepared to march and to fight with my mind like Dr. King.’

“We want to send a message to businesses that are in our community that we will not spend our money where we are not respected,’’ Rosemond said.  “Our money is power. We want to spread the word to the community that if this happens to you, there are things that you can do. Do not spend your money where you are invisible,’’

Gibson also has filed a complaint with Ohio Civil Rights Commission about his treatment at the restaurant.

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