June 7, 2008

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

The Jim Crow Museum is located at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.

I first learned about this remarkable, offensive, & worthwhile collection when I read how the collection was compiled. David Pilgrim, now curator of the museum, was the primary collector:

"I am a garbage collector, racist garbage. For three decades I have collected items that defame and belittle Africans and their American descendants.

[snip]

"I bought my first racist object when I was 12 or 13. My memory of that event is not perfect. It was the early 1970s in Mobile, Alabama, the home of my youth. The item was small, probably a Mammy saltshaker. It must have been cheap because I never had much money. And, it must have been ugly because after I paid the dealer I threw the item to the ground, shattering it. It was not a political act; I, simply, hated it, if you can hate an object.

[snip]

"All racial groups have been caricatured in this country, but none have been caricatured as often or in as many ways as have black Americans. Blacks have been portrayed in popular culture as pitiable exotics, cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society. These anti-black depictions were routinely manifested in or on material objects: ashtrays, drinking glasses, banks, games, fishing lures, detergent boxes, and other everyday items. These objects, with racist representations, both reflected and shaped attitudes towards African Americans. Robbin Henderson, director of the Berkeley Art Center, said, 'derogatory imagery enables people to absorb stereotypes; which in turn allows them to ignore and condone injustice, discrimination, segregation, and racism.' She was right. Racist imagery is propaganda and that propaganda was used to support Jim Crow laws and customs.

[snip]

"Today, I am the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. Most collectors are soothed by their collections; I hated mine and was relieved to get it out of my home. I donated my entire collection to the university, with the condition that the objects would be displayed and preserved. I never liked having the objects in my home."

Whew.

There is another point of view, however, if considered as collecting black Americana.

About.com's Collectibles Guide, Pamela Wiggins, has said: "I tend to agree with the belief that collecting black Americana can comprise a wide variety of items. A well-balanced collection would show the both the bad and good, painful and positive to be complete."

The museum "[I]s envisioned as an international leader in the anti-racism movement." Dr. Pilgrim's goal: "...when people come into that room [the Museum], it changes the way they talk about race."

[Image above is the book cover for The Proud Golliwog, by children's author Enid Blynton, & from the Enid Blyton Society's website.]

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