Throughout the U.S., the owners of new small and independent craft breweries often warn aspiring entrepreneurs in the industry to prepare for the common headaches including obtaining the funding, finding an ideal location, buying equipment, having access to various strains of hops, zoning permits, trademarking names, and distribution to name a few. However, no one could foresee the racism, vandalism, constant harassment, break-ins, and even death threats Black Star Line Brewing Company owner L.A. McCrae says she and her team have endured since opening in Hendersonville, North Carolina, in early October 2017.
As an African-American woman who proudly labels herself as queer, L.A. embraced being extraordinary in a white-dominant, conservative-leaning community. A self-taught brewer originally from Bel Air, Maryland, with a dream, L.A. gathered a team of like-minded individuals who believed in her mission, found funding any way she could obtain it, and received overwhelming support and tutelage from nearby Sanctuary Brewing Co. She named the brewery after the historical Black Star Line of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which was a way for Blacks of the African diaspora to connect with their roots and heritage.
“We chose to name the brewery Black Star Line due to our social mission and wanting to connect to the historical narrative of liberation and mobility,” she explains.
“Black Star Line Brewing is breaking new ground as a Black, family, & woman-owned brewery that has made welcoming everyone an explicit part of their reason for being.” North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild
But L.A. recounts stories of upsetting pushback including stolen equipment, home invasions, and being called derogatory epithets during daily errands. Since early November, she tells us the brewery has been the victim of hate speech and death threats.
“We received the first set of hate messages from our website that called us “ni—–” and saying they were ‘coming.'” L.A. tells CraftBeer.com. “We received the most incendiary of messages, which include threats of death.”
The North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild has voiced strong support for Black Star Line.
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“Hate has no place in our community. As members of the craft brewing community, we feel compelled to speak up and to stand in solidarity with our friends and colleagues at Black Star Line Brewing,” the organization writes on Facebook. “Beer brings people together. Black Star Line Brewing is breaking new ground as a Black, family, & woman-owned brewery that has made welcoming everyone an explicit part of their reason for being. We applaud their vision and their courage.”
In an in-depth interview where she answers in third-person and plural by choice, L.A. talks about Black Star Line’s mission as well as the recent threats her brewery family endures, how they fear for their lives, yet persevere.
Black Star Line’s L.A. McCrae on Recent Threats
Q: What made you open in Hendersonville, North Carolina?
L.A.: We are proud to be a part of the ‘#blacktuary team’ which is a collaborative effort between Black Star Line Brewing Co. and Sanctuary Brewing Co. Joe [Dinan] and Lisa [McDonald] of Sanctuary Brewing Co. have served as our mentors, guides, and teachers, but most of all, our friends. They have incubated our business and spent countless hours with us troubleshooting, visioning, and helping us grow. As we looked all around the region for a place to call home, we wanted to be as close to the Sanctuary family as possible. We were blessed beyond belief at the amazing opportunity to be located less than two blocks away from our homies at Sanctuary so that we could solidify our plans to collaborate on great beers and our social justice outreach.
Q: Talk about the unfortunate resistance you have received since opening.
L.A.: L.A. has been very transparent about their various social identities as a Black, queer, and woman. They imagined receiving pushback in the community and industry due to their social identities.
Over the course of the last two weeks, Black Star Line Brewing Co. has been experiencing pushback on some scheduled events and threats due to the makeup of the workforce. For instance, multiple people messaged the team about not wanting the film “I Am Not Your Negro,” a movie about race in America, shown in their town. We later received messages from the folks that hold the media license to let us know there have been complaints and concerns about us showing the movie. On Thursday, we received the first set of hate messages from our website that called us “ni–ers” and saying they were “coming.” On Friday, we received the most incendiary of messages, which include threats of death.
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Q: How have you and your staff been persevering through this?
L.A.: The team is truly a family of individuals who are passionate about their work, determined, and resilient. We work, live and eat together. We support each other through all of life’s challenges, including the threats over the last week. We’ve taken time to recharge, ground in with each other, and hold space for each other while we process our feelings and emotions with what is happening. The outpouring of love from the community and the industry have kept our souls and spirits up. People really showed up and took a stand.
Q: Who and how have others provided support for you?
L.A.: The community response has been amazing. #blacktuary–via Lisa–hosted a keg swap and party for us two days after the last death threat. Joe and Lisa continue to roll out collaborations with us and send people down this way to show love. People have been donating to our crowdfunding site, which is helping us achieve our goals and get on our feet due to the challenges we’ve had securing the necessary startup capital. People have sent encouraging messages and posts. The most touching was certainly a local high school class sending us handwritten letters of support, encouragement and affirmations.
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“Ultimately, what happened with the messages is part of a bigger problem.” L.A. McCrae, Black Star Line
Q: What do you wish for especially the readers and craft brewing community to do for Black Star?
L.A.: Black Star Line Brewing Co. is a brewery that makes great beer and has a committed social mission. At the root, what we are doing is building community. We would, of course, love people to come in and drink our beers. If folks are able, we would love for them to donate to our crowdfunding campaign. Ultimately, what happened with the messages is part of a bigger problem. In local communities, we would invite people to have conversations about intersectionality, social entrepreneurship, healing and liberation. One tangible action folks can take is asking others “How goes it with your soul?” and truly stopping to listen, witness, and hold space for their response.
A Show of Resilience
McCrae has reported the incidents to the police. They are investigating.
Despite the harassment, L.A. and her team refuse to give into the negativity; the smiles on the @blackstarlinebrewing Instagram are proof. Their resilience is fueled by the support of others in the community, Sanctuary Brewing, and ultimately, the love of brewing craft beer.
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