Larry Jefferson was the first ever black Santa Claus hired by the Mall of America in Minnesota. While that should be a cause for celebration, there have unfortunately been countless racist remarks online because of the decision by the mall’s Santa Experience.
Jefferson only signed a four-day contract to work at the mall, since he is based in Texas. However, it was the first time since the mall opened in 1992 that it had a black Santa.
Here’s a look at Jefferson’s life and career.
1. The Star-Tribune Had to Close the Comment Section on Its Profile of Jefferson Because of Racist Comments
Last week, media outlets in Minneapolis began publishing profiles of Jefferson, including WCCO and The Star-Tribune. Stories like these were meant to help celebrate the first time the 24-year-old Mall of America, the largest in the country, hired a black Santa.
However, the comment sections of both stories began to fill up with offensive messages. “Stupid. Incredibly stupid. Santa is WHITE. BOYCOTT Mall of America. Maybe they should change their name to MALL of RAGHEAD LAND,” one person wrote on the WCCO profile, notes RawStory.
The messages got so offensive that the comment sections were closed. “Looks like we had to turn comments off on story about Mall of America’s first black Santa. Merry Christmas everyone,” Star-Tribune editor Scott Gillespie wrote on Twitter.
2. The Mall of America’s Santa Experience Found Jefferson at a Santa Convention, Where He Was the Only Black Santa
When Landon Luther, who co-owns the Santa Experience, was trying to find a diverse Santa for the Mall of America, he went to a Santa Claus convention in Branson, Missouri in July. Of the 1,000 Santas there, Jefferson was the only black Santa.
“This is a long time coming,” Luther told the Star-Tribune. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”
“We had close to a 1,000 Santas there, and I was the only Santa of color,” Jefferson told WCCO.
3. Jefferson Was a Member of the U.S. Army Reserve for 25 Years
According to his website, Jefferson is a veteran. He retired from the U.S. Army in February 2015 and was a member of the Army Reserve for 25 years. He even served in the Gulf War.
He is also a professionally trained Santa, attending Santa University in Denver. He also has a B.A. in Sociology from Henderson State University.
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4. Jefferson Has Been Playing Santa Since He Was 12 Years Old & Began Playing Santa Professionally in 1999
Jefferson has loved playing Santa for most of his life. After his father hurt his back, he began playing Santa for his family in Arkansas when he was only 12 years old, the Star-Tribune notes.
He continued playing Santa for his family, buying a $30 suit to cheer up his nephews when they were sick. He decided to “go pro” in 1999 and has been doing it ever since.
“It’s no big deal, I’m still Santa, I just happen to be a Santa of Color,” Jefferson told WCCO.
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5. Jefferson Says That Parents are the Only Ones Who Mention His Race & Children Don’t Notice
Jefferson told the North Dallas Gazette in November 2015 that most children he has encountered never mention the color of his skin. It’s only the parents who see that he is black.
Black Santas are a rarity. Jefferson is the only black member of the Lone Star Santas, a non-profit group in Texas made up of men and women who dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus to cheer up children throughout the state.
Jefferson told the Washington Post that there was a recent incident where a child told him that he didn’t know Santa was brown.
“I said, ‘Yes, I am brown… And Santa comes in many different colors,'” Jefferson recalled. “It’s always so genuine. Kids are going to speak their mind at a young age.”
Jefferson told WCCO that it is important for children of color to see a Santa who looks like them. “It gives them something to identity with, but Santa is still just Santa,” he said.