The decision has been met with controversy, and this story might be one of the reasons why.
Dora Charles says that she and Paula Deen were “soul sisters.” She says that this is what Paula called her when they were both working as cooks together long before Paula got the major book deals, cooking shows and everything else that is putting money into her pocket.
Charles worked with Paula for 22-years, helping her open Lady & Sons, the restaurant that put Paula on the map. She trained the cooks, put together the recipes and did all the things needed to make a good kitchen work.
According to the New York Times, Charles says that she never got much of a raise from Paula, even after Deen became a big celebrity. Much of the time, she never made more than $10 per hour. She also says that Deen asked her to ring a dinner bell and yell for people to “come and get it.”
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”
Years later, Charles is 60 years old, living in a trailer park. But despite the fact that Paula never shared much of her wealth with Dora, she admitted that she really needed her.
“If I lost Dora, I would have been devastated,” Ms. Deen wrote in her book, “It Ain’t All About the Cooking.”
But one promise that was never fulfilled was the one where Paula promised to take care of Dora if their cooking dreams ever came to fruition.
“Stick with me, Dora, and I promise you one day if I get rich you’ll get rich,” she told her, according to Dora.
Charles says that her biggest mistake was trusting Paula’s words and not asking her to write a contract.
“I didn’t think I had to ’cause we were real close back then,” she said.
Paula Deen and her PR team are denying Charles’ allegations. After her story was reported in the New York Times, they issued this statement:
“Fundamentally Dora’s complaint is not about race but about money. It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen. ”
An investigation into the situation headed by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition found that workers claimed that Deen had their workspace split between black and white workers. They didn’t connect Paula to any direct racism herself, but did conclude that her workplace was one in which African Americans were not being treated fairly.
“I’m not trying to portray that she is a bad person,” Charles said. “I’m just trying to put my story out there that she didn’t treat me fairly and I was her soul sister.”
Financial Juneteenth lessons from this story:
1) If you start a venture with another person, always get things in writing. The world is very simple when you’re both broke, but it becomes vastly more complicated when there are millions of dollars on the line. Never assume that a friendship is going to be worth millions of dollars, because you may end up getting your feelings hurt by the truth.
2) Paula Deen doesn’t appear to be a person who dislikes black people. In fact, she seems quite comfortable and familiar with us. But there is a difference between liking someone and respecting them. Paula’s affection toward black people is rooted in the southern tradition of whites being very close to their slaves, but having an implicit understanding that there was a clear racial heirarchy. Racism doesn’t always manifest itself by people calling you the n-word. Sometimes, the worst racist you ever meet might also be your best friend.