Owner of cotton warehouse responds to racist comments

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A Memphis cotton company fired its supervisor after a story WREG broke about racist comments in the workplace.

The racist comments were caught on audio-recording inside the Atkinson Cotton Warehouse.

The supervisor could be heard telling a black worker that he couldn't use the water fountain.

“I need to put a sign here that says 'white people only’,” the supervisor says in the recording.

The warehouse owner wants to tell his side of the story.

Even though E.W. Atkinson owns the cotton warehouse and the warehouse even has his name on it, he says the management there is provided by another company.

He says he wasn't around enough to know about the alleged abuse going on.

“I just wasn't around. I'm sorry I didn't know sooner,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson says he's as shocked as anyone else by the recordings.

“Why can't I use the microwave, man?” Untonio Harris asks in the recording.

“Because you are not white,” the supervisor replies.

Atkinson was also shocked to hear the workers' stories:

“Telling me, 'Black man, don't get on this white man’s lift,'” Harris said.

“He would be like ‘You need to think like a white man,'” said Marrio Mangrum.

Atkinson says he had no idea the supervisor running his cotton warehouse could be saying racists remarks to black workers.

“I don't want people to think that we would let this behavior go on without doing something about it, seriously,” said Atkinson.

“He told me, ‘Shut up! Don't you hear the white people are in here talking,'” said Harris.

Harris says he was so sick of the treatment at work, he decided to record his boss on his cell phone. What he caught on audio is being heard nationwide.

“What they do when they catch me drinking your water?” asks Harris in the recording.

“That's when we hang you,” said the supervisor.

“I couldn’t believe he would say that,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson responded Wednesday to the EEOC complaint filed against his business, saying while Harris and Mangrum were his employees, he takes no responsibility for what the supervisor said.

He says he outsources the management to another company, Federal Compress, and the supervisor is that company's employee.

Federal compress released this statement:

Federal Compress maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy which prohibits any form of racially or other discriminatory conduct or language in the workplace and provides a process for reporting such violations to Human Resources for investigation.  When Federal Compress was first made aware of these allegations concerning an employee working in another company's workplace, it conducted a thorough and extensive investigation.  The person was immediately removed from that workplace, and is in fact no longer employed by Federal Compress.  Federal Compress very much regrets that the allegations were not reported to it when the first incident is claimed to have occurred.

Federal Compress remains committed to treating all employees, customers, and members of the public with respect and dignity.

“So who should be held responsible?” asked reporter Sabrina Hall.

“Well, I think they're going to talk to both of us,” said Atkinson.

The EEOC is working on a settlement with Atkinson Cotton Warehouse for the two men.

“'Hey black boy! Go over there and get my cotton,'” Harris recalled.

“Every day we were hearing the same thing. Everyday,” Mangrum added.

The men say they still live with painful memories from just trying to earn a paycheck.

Both were laid off in January, right before they filed the EEOC discrimination charge.

Atkinson says his family has been in the cotton business for more than 60 years and they have never had a discrimination charged filed against them until now.

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  • Mel

    It’s as if he is Mr. Matt is mentally disabled. How can you possibly lok at this and say black people are too sensitive?

  • Les63

    Since they did not report the supervisor to anyone else in the company (they’d rather file a lawsuit, no surprise) only the supervisor should be held responsible for his own actions. And for which I’m sure he lost his job. Case closed.

    • OrneryJoe

      You do realize, you really don’t get any say-so in the matter, right? Given that a billionaire just lost his favorite toy, an NBA team, because of his racist remarks and behaviour, I’d say the case will remain open for quite sometime to come yet.

      • Dr.Pell

        Sterling sold the team for $2BILLION a lot more than he paid for it so that doesn’t sound to me like he lost anything.

    • Gabriella

      The good news is, you’re completely wrong. Employees can file claims directly to the DOL or the EEOC. There are no laws or regulations that say employees must go through a chain of command that includes their supervisors or even HR.

    • LevelHeaded

      LES63 you’re an idiot. When it comes to Civil Rights there is NO REQUIREMENT that a complaint go through ANYONE within a company. Why do you think the EEOC even exists??? When you’re treated like this, there are laws that protect you and repercussions for the employer. Firing someone doesn’t solve the problem. Lawsuits are filed so there is awareness for the community. And quite deserving, this racist jerk will probably NEVER work again. Unfortunately though, he’ll become part of the welfare system that is breaking this economy.

    • GeechyDanBuford

      Cotton Factory…Deep South…Black Man is told he can’t drink from water fountain…You can’t script this stuff if you wanted. Every negative conotation I had of the south and grew up with in the south just came flashing before my eyes.

    • The Real Nonya

      It figures, kneegrows are killing each other in droves out in the streets and all they care about is what some white guy said. Talk about OCD!

      • Boudicca1

        And your comment is relevant to this story how? I’m pretty sure that if you look at history, white people reign supreme in the area of murder, war-related or not. Your mindset is exactly what we don’t need more of.

      • LaVoris

        Most of the shootings in Memphis are white on white the news jsut reports when blacks be shot fool.

    • The Real Nonya

      It figures, knee-grows are killing each other in droves out in the streets and all they care about is what some red neck says. Talk about OCD!

  • Amy Green

    Just a truly sad story all the way around. Unfortunately, in Memphis there is a lot of racial divide and you feel like you go back 100 years in mentality . When I moved here it blew me away how racially divided this city was on both ends of the spectrum. Because my husband is black, we got both racist remarks from both African Americans and Caucasians. A lot of things need to change in Memphis. A city divided is a city that will crumble.

    • James Masonne

      Yes, Amy Green, there really is a lot of racism here in Memphis. The problem which most people don’t want to see or admit is that most of the racism now is FROM the black people. Nothing can be done or said anymore without the black people rearing their heads and using the race cards. So, yes, it comes from their side probably more so than from the whites anymore. However, in this case the supervisor was just a stupid id10t who should have been fired. That being said there was only one white person who was being racist–not the white people in general. Lay the blame on the one person who was stupid.

      • GeechyDanBuford

        so, are you “justifying” the behavior of the supervisor? Have you personally experienced “racism” from black people? If so, do tell. I would like to hear your experience. Were you denied housing because of your race? Were you told you can’t send your children to a certain school district? Were you told not to drink from a certain waterfountain?…how about being told to sit at the back of the bus…BY LAW!!! Have you witnessed a white man being lynched by a blacks who stood around and took photos and posed for pictures while the corpse swung from the tree limb….Please, tell us your experience with black racism.

      • Joe Bo

        James you really think that other white people at the warehouse didn’t know that he was a raciest slobb? You really think that he ddidn’t make those commits in front of other whites? Then, one bridge for sale. Linking Memphis Tn and W. Memphis AR. Make me an offer. Friday special: buy one, get the other half off.

      • Boudicca1

        Not real sure how you can discern from this article that the supervisor was the only one who engaged in such sophomoric behavior. “Playing the race card” is exactly the kind of mindset which invalidates the experiences -I’m sure they’d thank you for your veiled condescension (not).

    • Tanisha Wakefield

      Amy, I couldn’t agree more with you. I grew up in Memphis. I attended elementary, high school and college there. It wasn’t until I moved to South Florida that I realized that this behavior was abnormal. Don’t get me wrong, Florida has its issues as well but, I feel as though I have not experienced the divide that I felt when I lived in Memphis. I wish I could come back but, it is hard to when I live in such a culture-accepting city now. Memphis has so much to offer. It is sad that this issue still exists.

    • Dr.Pell

      Really? Looks like Detroit is almost a one race city and it’s doesn’t seem to be doing too well even though there are no Whites around to discriminate against them. NYC and NY in general do pretty well but are also very segregated and in fact NY has the most segregated school system in all of the 50 States.

    • Adios

      Bill, you DO know that lying in order to prove your point INVALIDATES whatever point you’re trying to make. That’s NOT what Henri Brooks said. You whites try to make the mere MENTION of race into racism. That is NOT what racism is. And you know it. No one can beat whites being racist. Your people created the concept of racism and the supposed hierarchy of the races. YALL DID THAT. ALL BY YOURSELVES. Your people created entire SYSTEMS AND INSTITUTIONS BASED ON RACISM. Your people created laws based on racism. And now, you want to make the mere mention of race into racism??? Sorry, nice try, but you failed miserably.

      • LaVoris

        Henri Brooks be standin up for us black folks. Thank you ms brooks for all you do and we will be puttin you in office real soon. The peoploe will speak

  • Pest Control

    I think the dweeb working at a Cotton Gin did put him back some years and he uselessly fantasized superiority over blacks.

    However, the owner and staffing agency do have liability for putting such a superb inbred incharge of decision making of others. I would speculate a costly settlement from both if a good law firm was retained.

  • Mom

    It’s very hard for me to fathom “not being aware” and “not being around” enough to know such things existed/were happening. Was he the only supervisor at the facility? Again, take responsibility for what happens in your business regardless to whom it’s been outsourced. Sometimes, many times, unethical things happen within a business and people simply keep their mouths shut in fear of retailiation. Jobs are scarce these days and folks learn quick not to stir the pot. It’s a shame.

    • blahblah

      Enron, WorldCom, etc. etc. Upper management/owners of most companies have no idea what is really going on in their companies.

  • Chris W wears his sister's G string

    Bill is so right. What about colored people? Answer that. You can’t you say. We all know why. Starts with the letter Racial.

  • the real chris williams junior

    Sounds reasonable to me.

    Come on, folks, move along … nothin’ to see her.

  • Hank Jr.

    I hope one day some individuals will actually learn the true meaning of “Racism”, then when can have an intelligent conversation about this. “A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others” is the definition given. Now I can reproach African Americans with being discriminative and prejudiced but “Racist” I’m still trying to figure that out.

    • GeechyDanBuford

      hey Hank…regardless of how one tries to “sugarcoat” or make an attempt at “semantics” you have to admit the attitude/belief of the supervisor was WRONG, inappropriate and unprofessional. The use of a water fountain by people based on their race is neanderthal in its concerption (it is now and it was back then). What did the supervisor expect to accomplish by allowing one access to a waterfountain based on the race of the individual using it? Why not address that issue first, if you want to have “intelligent” conversation, then if we can come to a “rational” understanding of the supervisor’s behavior…then we can compare/contrast the difference between “racist” “prejudice” and “discriminatory”

  • T'omm J'Onzz

    Don’t worry, people! Nothing to see here – racism is over in the US. This incident of /apparent/ racism was only caused by talking /about/ racism. If you people stop talking about it, it wouldn’t exist.

    National Republican Party

    P.S. – don’t forget to vote this November: Republicans on Nov. 4; Democrats on Nov. 5.


  • Hank Jr.

    I never argued that the supervisor was erroneous, I was simply replying to a comment made by a follow commenter. All the comments about African American are being “Racist” is imprudent.
    P.S I like using big words to make myself seem smarter then I actually am.

  • bowieu25

    I totally agree that nut should be fired he need to watch his mouth the country has change. But that goes for the blacks to because black on black crime and discrimination is setting us way back the two races here in the older world should look at how the country is changing. Look at the skin color mix.

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