Timberland founder was a Russian immigrant, not a slave owner

·2-min read

A Facebook post claims the founder of Timberland was a slave owner who would hang his slaves from a tree on his Mississippi property, which later became the symbol for the popular boot company. This is false; Timberland boots were created in the 1970s by a Russian immigrant who bought a shoe company in Massachusetts, the company's history shows.

"Timberland 'Whip A Ni66a' Hawkins was one of the biggest racist of all time. In fact he owned sooo many slaves during the 1700s he couldn't auction them all off so he would hang them from a tree in his field," claims a February 14, 2022 Facebook post.

The post -- which also includes an image of a different person entirely -- goes on to claim the tree is still standing in Mississippi and was used for the Timberland logo.

According to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, this post has been shared more than 18,000 times -- including in multiple public Facebook groups in May 2022.

Screenshot of the results of a CrowdTangle search taken on May 12, 2022

Similar claims have circulated for years, fueled in part by a work falsely attributed to the late African American poet Maya Angelou that claimed Timberland was "owned by the president of the KKK." Snopes debunked claims about the poem's origin and the Timberland founder in 2014.

The claim in the Facebook post also has no relation to the shoe company's origins.

In 1952, Russian immigrant Nathan Swartz purchased a half-interest in Boston-based Abington Shoe, according to Timberland's official history. Swartz later bought out his partners and moved the company to New Hampshire.

The waterproof boots known as Timberlands were created in the 1970s and became popular with rap and hip-hop artists.

The Timberland brand was acquired in 2011 for about $2.3 billion by VF Corporation, which owns other apparel and shoe brands.

A Google reverse image search found the black-and-white image in the post shows George Henry Williams, a former US senator and attorney general from the 1800s who was an opponent of slavery.

AFP reached out to VF Corporation for comment but none was forthcoming by time of publication.

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