The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

Thursday, April 26, 2012

During Jim Crow, African-Americans were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Through laws and social norms, racism was legitimized and the practice operated as a way of life. And this, of course, was no more glaringly apparent than in the American South.

Today, many opt to put this era and the horrors that came with it behind them. They simply want to forget that this historical reality ever happened. But for a professor at Ferris State University in Michigan, the thought of confronting Jim Crow America seemed much more appealing than putting the era out of our nation’s memory. So with that thought in mind, Dr. David Pilgrim — who grew up in Mobile, Alabama — created the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. The museum is dedicated to preserving and displaying racist objects of the era, intending to provide insight and reflection on this dark chapter in American history.

Our Detroit reporter, Martina Guzman from WDET, recently spoke with Dr. Pilgrim, who now serves as the curator for the Museum. She joins the program, along with Renee Romano, associate professor history and African American studies at Oberlin College and co-editor of "The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory".

Bill Bitzinger

David Pilgrim, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion at Ferris State University as well as curator and founder of the Jim Crow Museum, works on one of the display cases inside of the new facility located on the FSU campus in Big Rapids, Mich. 

Bill Bitzinger

A group of students stop at one of the display cases during a tour of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. 

Bill Bitzinger

Under the watchful eye of David Pilgrim, vice president for Diversity and Inclusion at Ferris State University as well as curator and founder of the Jim Crow Museum in Big Rapids, Mich., visitors check out some of the items on display in the museum. 

Bill Bitzinger

The "Mammy" display case in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., features many examples of the caricature. 


Martina Guzmán and Renee Romano

Produced by:

Marc Kilstein

Comments [5]

Angel from Miami, FL

Racism still rules in the Village of Miami Shores, FL. Their citizen committees, like the code enforcement board, continuously use racial stereotypes when confronted with Black and Hispanic residents who have supposedly violated the code. They say things like "that may be the way those people across the way do it but not here". These committees are usually made of all white members and appear confrontation when dealing with most other skin complexions. I originally believed it was a class thing- rich against middle class. But I've discovered many of these bigots are middle-class who've inherited the expensive properties for their parents. Many of these codes were put in place after Truman's desegregation of the military in an attempt to thwart non-whites from moving into the municipality. The current real estate climate in south Florida makes it so that you deal with the bullseye they have on you or you sell your house at a loss... or foreclosure. It's a lynching without the tree.

Apr. 26 2012 11:08 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

In describing offensive imagery on display at this museum, Martina uses the words "very dark" and "big lips". This description was inadequate. Where I come from, "very dark"-ness and big lips can be a source of pride...We need to be clear: What is wrong with the racist memorabilia of the kind on display at this museum is their intent, exaggeration and lack of context. If the insight, reflection and dialogue at this museum lacks this nuance, then the museum is not serving its purported purpose and needs to shut down.

Apr. 26 2012 10:02 AM
Peter from NYC

We need an honest conversation about race, this museum focuses on negative media stereotypes, but the obvious glaring omission is the most negative of all media stereotypes, the current day gangster rap image This museum cannot claim an honest conversation without this being part of the discussion.

Apr. 26 2012 08:56 AM
Lenny Bullen from Queens NY

It's ironic listening to that segment on the Jim Crow museum. This is such a major part of America's history and for so many years. Attempts to cover up or change the truth will only lead to more conflict in the future. Todd (Host), the Holocoust years were after the Jim Crow era and the Holocaust museum serves a purpose. However, keep in mind that one was in place for centuries. Both a stain on humanity, but one was carried out right here in America for way too long.

Apr. 26 2012 08:51 AM
Roberta Newman from Brooklyn, NY

I am curious as to whether the museum includes any African-American generated images. In doing extensive research on advertising in the traditional black press from 1910-1955, I could not help but notice the many editorial cartoons and ads that feature the stereotypical imagery of the thick-lipped "darky," especially in the depiction of athletes. Minstrel show imagery pops up repeatedly in advertising. It is entirely possible that these ads were placed by businesses that were not part of the "community." Nevertheless, publishers like Robert S. Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, for example, appear to have had no problem accepting the content and the revenue of such advertising.

Apr. 26 2012 08:27 AM

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