The new Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia opened last Thursday on Michigan’s Ferris State University’s library basement. Dr. David Pilgrim, an African American collector of racist memorabilia, founded the museum.
Pilgrim, who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, bought a saltshaker in the shape of a mammy at a flea market when he was 12 years old. In demonstration of his rage, stemming from early childhood years of seeing racist memorabilia at friends and acquaintances’ houses, Pilgrim destroyed the saltshaker in front of the clerk after paying for it.
For several decades after that purchase, Pilgrim decided to buy and collect thousands of racist objects instead. A sociology professor at Ferris State University today, Pilgrim set out to build the museum to educate while confronting America’s history of White supremacy and racism.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Pilgrim said the following when asked for the reason to start collecting the memorabilia:
I went to a historically black college, Jarvis Christian College in Texas, and in addition to teaching the usual math and science, our professors would tell us stories of Jim Crow. One day, one of my professors came into the classroom with a chauffer’s cap. He set the hat down and asked what historical significance it had.
Now, the obvious answer was that blacks were denied many opportunities, and chauffeuring was one of the few jobs open to them. But that was not the right answer. He told us that a lot of professional middle-class blacks in those days always traveled with a chauffer’s hat. The reason: If they were driving a nice new car through a small southern town, they didn’t want police officers, or any other whites, to know the car belonged to them.
I remember that story so vividly. No object has any meaning other than what we assign to it. But that was an incredible meaning to assign to an object that, on the surface, had little to do with racism.
Here’s what he had to say regarding the real purpose of the museum:
We want to take someone who sees the Aunt Jemima label as a nostalgic thing, a picture that reminds them of good times, and introduce that person to someone who sees it as a vestige of slavery or segregation. We want to do the thing we as Americans seem to not want to do — which is talk. As crazy as that sounds, it actually works.
At a first glance at the some of the images, you may think this will only elicit rage and feelings of indignation among African Americans, and be counterproductive to the already tense race relations in this country. However, the ramifications of the Jim Crow Era racism and segregation are unmistakably pervasive in regards to the ingrained attitudes and perceptions of those who grew up in kitchens and establishments where seemingly innocent and nostalgic racist memorabilia was – and still is – commonplace.
For more information about the museum, visit the site HERE.
Take a look at the video and images below.