VOL. 10 | NO. 16 | Saturday, April 15, 2017
Racist Phone Tirade Prompts Reactions, Denials
By Bill Dries
A recorded racist telephone tirade purportedly by a former membership programs and services director of the Greater Memphis Chamber and her husband directed at the staff of a restaurant in Turks & Caicos went viral Friday, April 14, a week ahead of the chamber’s announcement of a new minority business effort.
The recording -- allegedly of Lauren Loeb and her fiance, Joe Marelle, in which Loeb repeatedly uses the n-word – chanting it over and over at one point -- and threatening violence, was posted Friday on liveleak.com with a picture of a phone with Loeb and Marelle’s picture on its screen.
Marelle is chief financial officer of Tobacco Superstores Inc. of Forrest City, Ark.
The couple’s attorney has questioned the validity of the recording.
“The conversation that is being claimed to occur is faked in many respects as neither of them would use the terms or speak in the manner portrayed,” reads the statement from attorney Brian Faughnan. The statement also said the controversy “threatens the reputations and privacy of people who are now about to be victimized twice.”
The couple's phone was missing after a visit to the restaurant. The recorded conversation includes questions and accusations about a missing phone.
The post quickly went viral and by Friday afternoon there were social media calls from Memphians calling for a boycott of Overton Square, much of which is owned and being developed by Loeb Properties.
Lauren Loeb, who lives in Forrest City, is the grand-daughter of the late Henry Loeb, who was mayor of Memphis during the sanitation workers strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in 1968.
And his controversial tenure has figured prominently in much of the reaction Friday to the recording.
Henry Loeb moved to Forrest City and opened a tractor dealership after his tenure as mayor ended in the early 1970s.
Loeb Properties is owned by a different part of the family and grew out of the Loeb chain of laundries, dry cleaners and barbecues into a real estate and development company that owns and manages more than two million square feet of commercial space as well as developing other projects.
In the 1960s, the Loeb retail businesses were the targets of boycotts and even vandalism in the wake of King’s assassination in 1968.
The definitive history of the 1968 strike, “At The River I Stand,” written by Joan Turner Beifuss in 1985 refers to the businesses.
“A boycott was called on the Loeb chain … owned by the Mayor’s brother William,” a passage reads. “The two brothers had reportedly been feuding for years, and the Mayor had divested himself of all interest in the chain.”
Bob Loeb, the president of Loeb Properties, said in 2014 “Memphis” magazine profile, “When my uncle went into politics, my father bought his interest. He and my uncle were never close and I barely knew my cousins.”
The company responded to the controversy Friday. “Loeb Properties strongly condemns the language and sentiment of the reprehensible recording that has been widely distributed in the press,” the statement reads. “The individuals involved are in no way associated with Loeb Properties.”
“These derogatory statements are consistent with the representation of the unspoken tone of some established business persons, who have managed to oppress black and brown folks in our city since the death of Dr. King,” reads a statement from Black Lives Matter Memphis. “An economic boycott should be called for immediately by all citizens of good will who know this is all wrong.”
The chamber said Loeb hasn’t worked at the chamber since March but in its first statement simply said that Loeb did not work for the chamber.
“This recording shows a despicable act by a despicable person,” the statement reads. “Anybody who makes a statement like this is not eligible for employment with the Greater Memphis Chamber. Anyone who engages in conversation like this would be terminated from the Chamber.”
“It doesn’t matter that she was on vacation in Turks & Caicos,” Memphis Branch NAACP president Deidre Malone said in a written statement Friday afternoon. “What matters is what she said and how she said it and that obviously she believes it. Someone with that attitude towards any person of color has no business working for an organization whose purpose is to bring businesses to the area or any business at all. … Clearly, we still have a lot of work to do.”