Through the years while I have been blogging, I have many times used the famous Jim Crow Museum as a reference for when I needed stereotypical and racist images that explained how America condoned the assaults upon the humanity of Black Americans.
The Jim Crow Museum, located Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, and now closed due to the campus construction during the summer of 2010, is the brainchild of Mr. David Pilgrim. He began collecting racist memorabilia as a child when he bought a small Mammy salt shaker from a White store owner. David took the shaker outside, threw it on the ground, and broke it into a thousand pieces in an attempt to destroy centuries of racist subjugation of Black Americans:
“When he was 12 or maybe 13, David Pilgrim had the uncontrollable urge to buy a salt shaker. But not just any salt shaker.
He bought a Mammy salt shaker — a caricature of a woman slave made into a salt shaker — from an antiques dealer in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
It was small, he remembers, and cheap “because I never had much money.”
No matter what the price, the minute the money exchanged hands between the young black child and the white businessman, David Pilgrim threw the salt shaker on the ground, breaking it into a million pieces — as if that action alone could shatter years of racist attitudes and degradation.
“It was not a political act,” Pilgrim writes. “I simply hated it.” (1)
He realized that instead of destroying such artifacts, he would seek to preserve them as tools of education:
“That was the last time he destroyed what he describes as a “racist object … racist garbage.” Instead, he started collecting them.” (1)
Mr. Pilgrim joined Ferris State’s faculty in 1990, founded the museum in 1998. Until then, he had kept the objects in his home. From his collecting such memorabilia, sprang the idea for the creation of a museum for the public display of such items. He then founded the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia to educate people of the history of Jim Crow and how the hated objects came into being.
Today, the Museum has more than 4,000 items that Mr. Pilgrim has donated to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia which he founded at the university.
Many people who visit the museum, and its more accessible website, have questioned why Mr. Pilgrim would even want to buy objects that ridicule, humiliate, and disrespect Black people. He states that even though these artifacts were meant to degrade Black Americans, these artifacts can still educate people unaware of how callously America disregarded the humanity of Black Americans:
“…..to remind people what it was like to live “under Jim Crow segregation … in a land where every black person was considered inferior to every white one.” (1)
Some of the objects Mr. Pilgrim has collected include the following:
* A parlor game from the 1930s called “72 Pictured Party Stunts” that instructs players to “Go through the motions of a colored boy eating watermelon.” The game’s card shows a dark black boy with bulging eyes and blood red lips eating a watermelon as large as he is.
* A 1916 magazine advertisement that shows a little black boy, again in caricature, drinking from an ink bottle. The caption reads: “Nigger Milk.” Pilgrim bought the print in 1988 from an antique store in LaPorte, Ind., for $20. (1)
The website of the museum has volumes of information on the many types of racist stereotypes and numerous examples of racist memorabilia.
The site has sections devoted to explaining the historical context and rationalization of Whites behind the creation of so many well-known racist icons: Mammy, Golliwog, Pickaninny, Sambo, Rastus (Cream of Wheat Man), Coon, Uncle Ben, the Tragic Mulatto (always—-always—-presented as a female, and never as a male, as if male mulattos/biracials were never born), Jezebel, the Black Brute, Sapphire, and so many others.
The site also posts a “Question Of The Month,” where Mr. Pilgrim (or another responder) will answer various questions about the site, as well as questions relating to racism, race relations, the history of Jim Crow, and the impact of segregation and the racist memorabilia on the lives of Black Americans.
In addition to managing the site and the museum, Mr. Pilgrim also gives speaking engagements and traveling lectures.
The site’s directive is as follows:
*Collect, exhibit and preserve objects and collections related to racial segregation, civil rights, and anti-Black caricatures
*Promote the scholarly examination of historical and contemporary expressions of racism
*Serve as a teaching resource for ferris State University courses which deal directly, or indirectly, with the issues of race and ethnicity
*Serve as an educational resource for scholars and teachers of the state, national and international levels
*Promote racial understanding and healing
*Serve as a resource for civil rights and human rights organizations.
Here is a video on the Jim Crow Museum:
To reach the site, click here, and enter a world where the abominable was considered fashionable and accepted.
Where the vile and reprehensible was sanctioned, condoned and throughout this nation’s history.
Where the legacy of such history still remains with us all.
(1) “Jim Crow Museum In The Spotlight At Annual Dinner“, The Mukegon Chronicle, November 11, 2006.