A group of Morris Dancers were forced to abandon a performance after they were accused of being racist and threatened over their traditional black face paint, it has been claimed.
The Alvechurch group were heckled by a handful of onlookers during performances on two city centre streets near the Bullring in Birmingham on Saturday, witnesses said.
The dancers were one of more than a dozen groups who were there to celebrate Plough Monday, the traditional start of the agricultural year.
They tried in vain to explain but things took such a turn for the worse that the performances had to be abandoned.
They arrived at 11am and had performed without incident in pubs, to groups of local and visiting football fans and to the majority of shoppers.
But a source close to the group said: “The atmosphere had been great with the vast majority of people, but I was absolutely amazed by the vitriolic abuse they started to receive.
“The issues began when they started dancing near to the Bull outside the Bullring and later near to Marks & Spencer. They were roundly abused and threatened with violence.
“One lady was particularly angry and a group of young men started to become very abusive and confrontational, accusing them of being racists, which of course they are not.
“They started jumping in between the dancers and knocking off their hats. The dancers tried to explain why their faces were painted black, but they would not listen.
“They tried in vain to explain but things took such a turn for the worse that the performances had to be abandoned.”
The group formed in 1989 and its dancers dress in black with black painted faces. Morris dancers have performed with black face make-up since the origins of the dancing tradition in the 16th century.
Known as “Border Morris”, the tradition sees performers wearing a full-face of black paint in order to disguise themselves.
One theory is that it started when impoverished 16th century farm workers had to conceal their faces to avoid being recognised while begging during winter, as asking for money was illegal.
The alleged incidents come after Shrewsbury Folk Festival bosses announced last year that it will no longer book acts who wear full black face paint.
Equality group Fairness, Respect, Equality Shropshire (Fresh) said the ban showed sensitivity “to a changed social climate”. But Morris dancers say there were “no racial connotations” and they had “never wanted to upset people”.