(CNN) — Celebrity chef Paula Deen, facing allegations of racism that have caused parts of her empire to crumble, slammed what she called “horrible, horrible lies” about her in an emotional, nationally televised interview Wednesday.
“I believe that every creature on this Earth, every one of God’s creatures, was created equal,” she told NBC’s “Today” show. “… I believe that everyone ought to be treated equal.”
Deen was raised to never be unkind to anyone, she said.
“I’ve had to hold friends in my arms while they’ve sobbed,” Deen said, crying. “Because they know what’s being said about me — it’s not true. And I’m having to comfort them, and tell them it’s going to be all right. If God got us to it, he’ll get us through it.”
The accusations against Deen stem from a lawsuit filed by a former manager of Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Georgia. Lisa T. Jackson’s lawsuit alleges that Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier, committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of Jackson’s five-year tenure at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House eateries in Savannah.
Deen rejects the allegations.
“There’s someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for and they wanted it,” Deen told NBC on Wednesday, without naming anyone.
In a deposition for the lawsuit, Deen was asked whether she had ever used the “N-word.”
Deen answered that she had probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head” — an incident that took place 30 years ago.
In the “Today” interview, she gave more details about that incident. The man holding the gun was someone she knew, she said. “I had gone out on a limb for him and gotten him a loan and he was frightened that I was going to recognize him.”
In the deposition, Deen was asked whether she had used the word at any other times since. She responded, “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”
She added that she may have uttered the word in repeating a conversation that took place between black people.
In fact, she told NBC, “It’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling each other. … Because I think for this problem to be worked on, that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl.”
Jackson’s lawsuit also claims Deen wanted to plan a party in the style of a Southern plantation, staffed with black waiters dressed to resemble slaves.
In her deposition, Deen said she was speaking of an experience she had had in which the wait staff was composed of black men in white jackets and bow ties, and that she had said she would love for Hier to “experience a very Southern style wedding” such as that.
“I did not mean anything derogatory by saying I loved their look and their professionalism,” she added.
Amid the firestorm, The Food Network dropped Deen, as did Smithfield Foods, one of her key sponsors. There are questions now over whether other businesses including QVC and Walmart may cut ties with the star of Southern cooking.
Deen said she’s thankful that other sponsors have stood by her.
Many fans have flocked to her restaurants in support of Deen. And advance orders for her new cookbook have surged.
Deen said she’s “distressed” that people whom she’s never heard of are appearing in the media as “experts on who I am.”
Asked whether she regrets telling the truth in the deposition, Deen answered, “No. Because there’s a couple of kinds of people that I don’t like, that I am prejudiced against: … thieves and liars.”
“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me,” she said tearfully. “Please — I want to meet you.”
For extended coverage on this story, click here.