President Barack Obama's picture was removed this week from a Presidents Day sign at the Peterson Air Force Base commissary after customers complained that the image did not fit the holiday commemorating the birthdays of past presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
The head of the local NAACP and a commissary employee say it was blatant racism.
The picture of the first black president accompanied a sign near the entrance listing the government-run military grocery store's operating hours on for Presidents Day. The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Employees took the sign down after customers complained that the holiday wasn't about the current president, according to the Defense Commissary Agency, which oversees the base grocery stores.
Rosemary Harris, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said something more sinister was afoot.
"It bodes poorly for the progress that we hoped we would see in this country; we might have taken one step forward but we see many steps being taken backwards," she said Friday. A cashier at the commissary who did not want her name used said pictures of past presidents, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have accompanied the Presidents Day closure sign.
One customer, a military retiree, objected this year because of Obama's race, the cashier said.
"He said they're not going to have no black man on the window where he shops," the cashier said.
The commissary agency disputed the cashier's story, saying no past presidents have had their picture displayed with the holiday message.
They said four customers had complained that Presidents Day is to honor Washington and Lincoln, not Obama, causing the agency to remove the Obama image.
"The customers stated it is inaccurate to associate other presidents with this holiday and asked that we remove President Obama's photo from the flier," the agency said in a statement.
The commissary came up with a new, less controversial notice.
"The one presently posted is titled Washington's Birthday and has no photos," the agency said.
Harris isn't buying it, and said she wants Obama to again greet shoppers.
"To me it doesn't matter if its racism or politics," Harris said. "It's probably some of both."