Erika White didn’t plan to visit her Central District restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as the business is usually closed on Mondays. But when a technician said he was free to fix the heater at Fat’s Chicken & Waffles, she went over to meet him, only to find the mural of King on her restaurant had been defaced.
“It felt like someone punched me in the stomach,” White said Thursday. “I’m in complete shock that someone would even have the nerve to do it.”
The night before, her staff had finished a long and busy day and White and Erika Kidd, a friend and employee, had taken a selfie in front of the mural to pay homage. The 26-year-old mural has long been a source of encouragement for White while she keeps her Southern food restaurant afloat.
After discovering the vandalism, White called a friend who painted over the offensive message. Kidd posted a picture of the vandalism on Instagram. When the restaurant opened on Wednesday, calls and social media posts poured in from people expressing support and looking to donate to the mural’s restoration.
“No one deserves to have a beautiful piece of art that is based on a beautiful human to be debased in that way. No matter what your views are,” Kidd said.
Ironically, King 5 TV had prerecorded a segment about the mural and the importance of White’s restaurant, a Black- and woman-owned business, in the rapidly gentrifying Central District in preparation for MLK Day, White said.
The vandalism attracted the attention of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who said in a statement that the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture will help clean up the damage.
“This act of vandalism is completely unacceptable and violates the core values of our city,” tweeted Harrell, who grew up in the Central District. “… We will not let inflammatory actions derail our vision for a welcoming Seattle.”
Office of Arts and Culture spokesperson Erika Lindsay said more information on how the city will help with the restoration will be released later.
White also said she has spoken to a bias crimes investigator from the Seattle Police Department, which is looking into the incident.
The vandalism brought to mind a similar incident in 2020, when a mural created by students at Franklin High School and to honor the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party was defaced.
White said she isn’t speculating about who vandalized the MLK mural or why. She says she’s focused on finding a way to get James Crespinel, the artist who painted the mural, to return to Seattle restore it. Crespinel is based in West Seattle and Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Crespinel told the South Seattle Emerald he’s willing to restore the mural, but it could take a few weeks to arrange a trip to Seattle.
The mural has long been fixture of the neighborhood, said White, who grew up in the Central District and attended Garfield High School.
Tourists would take selfies near the mural, at East Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. On MLK Day, people would leave flowers.
White had the mural touched up by Crespinel in 2015, when her restaurant opened. People, protective of the mural, made sure that White was aware of what was happening.
The busy intersection has been host to many restaurants throughout the years, she said. Before Fat’s Chicken & Waffles, there was Catfish Corner and before that, there was a burger joint called One Stop. As the owner of Fat’s Chicken & Waffles, White said she felt her job was to be the keeper of the mural.
“Even though the faces and the people have changed, this is still a community mural,” she said.
To donate to the mural’s restoration, contact White at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An initial version of this story misidentified where artist James Crespinel is based. He is based in West Seattle and Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.
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