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PUSH members protest outside Cracker Barrel

Rainbow PUSH protestors picket outside MattesCracker Barrel
Friday Dec. 27 2013. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media

Rainbow PUSH protestors picket outside the Matteson Cracker Barrel on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 29, 2014 6:14AM

Rainbow PUSH Coalition members picketed outside the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant in Matteson on Friday, days after the restaurant chain announced it would be selling Duck Dynasty merchandise in its stores once again.

Known for its country-fried dishes and down-home aesthetics, the national restaurant chain pulled the gear from its shelves earlier this month after Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson disparaged gays in the January edition of GQ magazine. The 67-year-old Robertson also said that while growing up in Louisiana before the Civil Rights movement, he never saw mistreatment of blacks.

A&E, the cable network that airs the show, suspended him initially but announced on Friday that he was returning to the show after discussions with the Robertson family and “numerous advocacy groups.”

Rainbow PUSH Coalition senior adviser Rev. Janette Wilson said the decisions of A&E and Cracker Barrel “made light,” of Robertson’s remarks.

“As if we enjoyed being disrespected when we had to sit in the back of the bus,” Wilson said. “This is not a laughing matter.”

Robertson’s comments were slammed by groups including GLAAD, the gay media watch organization. But A&E’s decision drew a backlash from those who said they supported Robertson’s comments and others who defended him on the basis of free speech.

The cable network’s decision follows Cracker Barrel’s Dec. 22 announcement on its website, stating that Duck Dynasty gear would be returning to its shelves due to customer backlash.

“You flat out told us we were wrong,” said a statement on the company’s website. “We listened … And, we apologize for offending you.”

A Cracker Barrel spokesman did not return a message left Friday and a store manager declined to comment. Duck Dynasty cups, mugs, t-shirts, camouflage pants, books and other merchandise were being sold at the Matteson location on Friday.

Wilson and about 10 others picketed outside the restaurant for about 45 minutes and passed out leaflets to customers entering and leaving the restaurant.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition planned to “escalate,” its picketing and leafleting activities outside companies that sell Duck Dynasty Gear on Monday, Wilson said. Additionally, the group plans to meet with the CEOs of Cracker Barrel and A&E in January to discuss the issue.

“We are urging women, many of whom are mothers, to black out A&E programming until they remove Duck Dynasty episodes that have Robertson in them from the airwaves,” Wilson said.

Homewood resident Christine Canada was shopping at the Cracker Barrel with her daughter, Caitlin, during the protest. Together, they bought a snowman and other Christmas ornaments — on sale for 70 percent off — for $16.35.

Upon learning about Robertson’s controversial statements, Canada walked back into the store to return the goods.

“To know better is to do better,” Canada said.

Country Club Hills resident Jean Rollins-Helms says she has been going to the restaurant every Friday for a decade to eat breakfast with a friend. She said she was disappointed by the decision to carry the gear especially in the restaurant in Matteson, which has a population that is 78 percent black, according to the 2010 census.

“Since you have a diverse clientele, you should respect diversity,” said Rollins-Helms.

Glenwood resident Sue Soss said that while she disagreed with Robertson’s statements about black people, she stood behind his comments concerning gay people.

“He’s a Christian and I am too,” Soss said. “From what he says, I know it is true. He got it from the Bible.”

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