Calling the name Sambo "demeaning to blacks, Indians and persons of mixed lineage", some Reston residents sought yesterday to prevent a local restaurant from using the name Sambo's. They filed a complaint about the issue with the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission.
The complaint, filed by the Reston Community Associations, is the latest in a series of attempts to force Sambo's Restaurants Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif., to change the name of its Reston operation before the restaurant opens next spring at the Reston Town Center.
"We are trying to build a town that welcomes all people", said Joanne Brownsword, president of the RCA. "We don't want a name (on a Reston restaurant) that insults one segments of the population."
The Reston group says it objects to the name because it refers both to a character who beat Uncle Tom to death in the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and to a young black boy in the book "Little Black Sambo," a 77-year-old children's work which has been praised as a classic and condemned as racially demeaning.
Sambo's board of directors is scheduled to decide Wednesday at its regular monthly meeting whether to change the name of its Reston restaurant, according to Sambo's spokesman David Severson. If the board decides to change the name, the Reston restaurant probably would be called The Jolly Tiger, a name now carried by several dinner-oriented restaurants owned by Sambo's Restaurants.
"I don't know what the board will decide, but the number of people involved here (in fighting the name Sambo's) is going to make a difference." It will carry a lot of weight, Severson said.
Sambo's has renamed two of its restaurants The Jolly Tiger in response to community outery against the name Sambo's. Those restaurants are located in New Bedford, Mass., and Rome, N.Y.
"It never occured to us that the name Sambo's was anything offensive until we began expanding in the Northeast two years ago," Severson said. The Sambo's chain which originated in Califronia, has more than 850 restaurants throughout the United States, including 16 in other Virginia towns and cities.
Ernest V. Yancey, a member of the Reston Community Association board of directors said he foresees a blacklash from Reston residents if the name Sambo's stays on the restaurant.
The county Human Rights Commission will "try to negotiate a fair agreement "Sambo's officials on the name of the restuarant, according to Patricia Horton, executive director of the Human Rights Commission. Construction is scheduled to start next week on the restaurant and it is to open in early May.
If the commission finds that Sambo's Restaurants is violating the county's human rights ordinance by keeping the name Sambo's the company could be sued to try to force a name charge, Horton said.
Sambo's spokesman Severson said the name Sambo's comes from a contraction of the names of the company's founders, Sam Battistone and F. Newell Bohnett.