By Stephanie Siek, CNN
(CNN) – Generations of Americans have grown up intimately acquainted with stereotypes of African-Americans, from “mammies” serving Aunt Jemima pancakes, to “Little Black Sambo” at evening story time. In between, people could use washing powder, notepads, ashtrays, tea towels, sugar bowls, swizzle sticks and tobacco marketed with images of African-Americans portrayed as not only mammies and sambos, but dimwitted jungle savages, google-eyed golliwogs, lewdly sexual Jezebels, watermelon-eating pickaninnies and lazy Stepin’ Fetchits. Racist objects were used to open beer bottles, dust lint from coats, hold doors, catch ashes from cigarettes and lure fish, especially in the early 20th century.
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia owns thousands of items that illustrate these and other stereotypes and attitudes about African-Americans. Housed for About 15 years in a small unused classroom at Big Rapids, Michigan’s Ferris State University, it moved into a $1.3 million, 3,500-square foot campus space in April.
“I used to claim if you named an object, I could find a racist version of it,” said David Pilgrim, Ferris State University vice president for diversity and inclusion, who created and now curates the museum.
Pilgrim, a sociology professor, said he hopes that the museum can one day serve as a place where visitors can witness and deconstruct all kinds of stereotypes. The collection includes objects that denigrate women, gays and lesbians, Mexican-Americans and Native Americans.
People often criticize or question the museum, and say it's best the materials are forgotten. Museum organizers say they're sometimes accused of promoting racism. Pilgrim agrees the museum's collection is offensive, and says the problems of the present can't be analyzed without remembering the past.
Here's what he had to say about the museum's origins and mission.
CNN: How many artifacts are currently in the museum’s collection?
David Pilgrim: Our collection is probably about 9,000 items – and maybe half of that is being displayed. I’ll give you some general categories – the biggest is anti-black caricature objects. And then we have what I would call segregation memorabilia (such as “white only” signs). The other category is what we might call “positive” pieces or African-American heritage pieces – civil rights memorabilia, Negro League baseball memorabilia, articles about African-American achievement.
We also have a couple thousand pieces on other groups. We have a showcase outside where we’ve placed objects about the stereotyping of Native Americans and women, to send the message that this is the next leg of the journey. I never had it as an intention in recent years that this would be the final place we built. We were in a small room, a 500-square foot room, before the renovation – and I’d like to start putting some of that material in there, and I’d like to build those collections, especially some of the material on women.
CNN: Where did you find all these objects?
Pilgrim: For most of my life, I collected in flea markets. It is certainly true that once the internet exploded that became the primary way that I collected. But I’ve also gone into peoples’ homes, purchased other peoples’ collection. We’re now in a position where some people are donating their collections. But in terms of me reaching in my pocket and purchasing – most of that has been in flea markets, antique stores or internet auctions like ebay and Yahoo.
CNN: Do you remember the first piece of racist memorabilia you acquired? How did you get it?
Pilgrim: I grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and (in the early 1970s) when I was 12 or 13, I was at one of those hybrid flea markets-slash-carnival type deals; they had merchants that had all sort of stuff they were selling. One guy, in addition to the other stuff, was selling “Mammy” salt and pepper shakers. I bought them, and I broke them… Just threw them down right in front of him. I guess I had the makings of an activist even then. Or I had the makings of a jerk.
I do not remember (reaction of the seller.) This would have been the early '70s or something, at that time he could have pretty much called me whatever he wanted to. It’s almost surreal, I remember things about the day, it being very hot, the smell from these sausage-type things making me queasy. I remember these were sitting on the edge of the table, and I remember breaking it, but I don’t remember anything else. I don’t want to take too much credit – it might also be the fact that it was just ugly, and that he (a white vendor) was selling it. I don’t think anyone can think of an incident more in life than I can of that one.
CNN: When did acquiring these objects cross the line from being a hobby to being a more organized collection?
Pilgrim: When I was an undergrad I started giving lectures to community groups - I saw the power of a visual aid - I was speaking to all black audiences at that time, and they all got it. Some people would give me things. Other than the first time, I don’t think I was ever sort of a liberator collector - someone liberating it from the merchant or the larger society. At least not consciously. It started in a fledgling kind of way, using this to educate, and then became more about that. It’s just the power - a picture is worth a thousand words, but a three-dimensional object got to be worth at least that too.
CNN: What is the best argument for retaining these kind of racist artifacts and displaying them? Why do we need to remember?
Pilgrim: One of the interesting things (critics say) is the idea that we’re a shrine to racism - in a very real sense, that’s like saying a hospital is a shrine to disease. It’s silly. But I do understand that many Americans prefer not to discuss race in a setting where their ideas are challenged. We don’t like talking about some periods of history, but if we don’t do that, we’re not a mature nation, and that’s not a mature education.
In the same sense, it’s consistent with more of an eyes-on, hands-on teaching approach.
We are doing it in almost the opposite way that a lot of people approach race - we’re not only not avoiding it, we’re dealing with it in the most direct way you could imagine.
If you look at any measure - any survey, any poll that dealt with attitudes whites had toward blacks, and you look at the stereotypes that existed, those were all reflected in material culture. They become a barometer of the attitudes and abuses directed at African-Americans. If you look today, you’ll see for some percentage of the white psyche, the stereotypes and caricatures are reflected in the pieces. I think what’s more damaging isn’t just that they reflected existing stereotypes, but that they shaped attitudes and values to come as related to blacks. We show cartoons in the museum from the '30s, '40s, '50s. Imagine you were a child and watching those – they’re not just reflecting (contemporary attitudes), they’re also shaping (future ones).
CNN: You have a huge amount of acquisitions that reflect the pre-civil-rights-era. What are some of the most recent objects in the museum?
Pilgrim: People are surprised to see objects made just five years ago. I can’t say it’s the newest because we acquire new stuff every day, but it includes the anti-Obama presidential election stuff. We did buy a miniature President Obama lawn jockey. There’s no shortage of new examples. If you go to Café Press, TShirtHell.com and ebay, there’s stuff being cranked out like you wouldn’t believe. Some of the new stuff are reproductions of old stuff. Not just to look the same, but taking the old image, from "Nigger Hair Tobacco,” for example, and placing it on the face of a clock. Old image, new object. There’s also the “Plain Brown Rapper” – this Halloween mask.
And if there’s a race-based incident that occurs nationally, within one week we will own a material object pertaining to it. With Don Imus’ unfortunate remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, within three days we had racist stuff related to that.
CNN: How have you seen these stereotypical representations of African-Americans change over the years?
Pilgrim: Some of the old objects are being reproduced exactly as they were, because there’s a market for that. I can find a mammy cookie jar that looks exactly like one from 1920. But also you see other kinds of caricature - like the image of the brute – the black young man portrayed as criminals and menaces and rapists and whatever else. That image in the 1920s and '30s would have shown a nappy-haired black guy with a razor in his hand. Today you’d see a guy with a gun in his hand, dressed in the manner of hip-hop culture. But it’s the same stereotype.
One major difference today is that there is now a market for positive images of African-Americans. But there are some periods where you really have to hustle to find a lot of mass-produced positive images. But now there’s an incredible market of positive material out there, what I call redemptive pieces. Statues or busts or sculptures of not just real African-Americans, but African-American young people in graduation gowns.
CNN: What do you hope people take away from their visit to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia?
Pilgrim: It’s going to sound mawkish, but I really do believe in the triumph of dialogue, otherwise I couldn’t be in higher education. I hope we’ve created an intelligent space where people can talk about race and learn about race. When it’s all said and done we’re an academic resource. This is just another way to teach.
Those were the good old days.
Slavery still exists in our world today!!! If you hate what happened 200 years ago why aren't you fighting it today? Google slavery, find a way to help others.
If you NOT will to be part of the solution then SHUT UP!!! Quit crying here about the past, unless you have a time machine or some magic fix, then just shut up. Its boring to read all the poor poor pitiful me I am reading here.You can make a difference to people who are slaves today. All these post are attention starved worthless hot air unless you commit today to do something about it.
we have to try to fix our country first, don't you think? There's no sense in trying to fight someone else's war if there are still battles in our home.
Ending slavery and oppression always makes perfect sense. Ending rape makes perfect sense. Ending abortions makes perfect sense. Ending genocides makes perfect sense. Ending wars makes perfect sense. Ending Hate makes perfect sense. Feeding the starving makes perfect sense. Doing the right thing makes perfect sense. Any other direction is only chaos!!!
Have any of you ever seen a sign that said "blacks only, whites not allowed"? What are these people talking about???
They dont want you to see that part of history. But they exsisted. Just because you dont see them on tv...doesnt mean they didnt exsist. Lakota. Love
Guys there are a lot of people from haiti and other war torn nations like mexico that are forced here and dont know history. MLK fought hard for love and acceptance. We have to remind the black youths that we are friends. Theres good and bad in everyone. Obama must go. he will collapse our economy. Black and white alike will feel his wrath. Remember the beastie boys? We are friends.
The slavers are from holland spain and england. Soros sits at the top. he owns cnn msnbc and all liberal media.
Start running george. The people see your games now.
Soros knows he will lose. He can hide God from us no longer. The Spirit WILL knock him off his throne! Thank you Spirit!
Everyone keeps harping on racism and slavery, slavery was set up here by the British, not the continental congress and was ended by Americans together. The Dutch enslaved those poor people, not Americans, it was other Africans who caught them and sold them, again not Americans. Here is my problem with it all.... Slavery still exists in our world today!!! If you hate what happened 200 years ago why aren't you fighting it today? Google slavery, find a way to help others.
The african version of slavery was more like indentured servitude. A man could be captured as a slave and eventually become the wealthiest man.
I do not think the people behind our troubles believe in The Great Spirit at all. I think in my heart they know the Spirit is very real. They are few. And they are truely wicked. Love
And "they" are neither human or alien...they are simply evil. So please talk love for all people, no matter what they look like on the outside...what matters to the Spirit is what is on the inside. Heart. Love
Aaahhhh, the good old days!!
I am african american, I think it is necessary to have a museum that shows the racial injustices of the past.
Racism may not be a overt as it was in the sixties... but I feel the segragation often when I go shopping in clothing stores, and sometimes at work.
The best way to do the right thing is show the results of the wrong thing.
This museum is about AMERICAN history – not just black history or white history. Hate/prejudice/ignorance will ALWAYS be around and it's because they are taught. That's right, you can only hate when you are taught to hate – love comes naturally.
Am sorry Karen J-L, we were ALL born in sin. Hate is a natural behavior. Most parents try to teach LOVE, COMPASSION and HONESTY. Children are born saying "NO", "HITTING" "THROWING" and "LYING".
Parents spend a lot of time trying to correct these "Non Taught" flaws. Some parents succeed and some don't. As for the Museum, it's apart of our past. It does not matter to me who started Slavery the British, Africans, Portugal or the Americans benefited from it. What bothers me about then and now is “What Humans can do to Humans", On this Dirt and Water planet in the Orion Arm of the "Milky Way Galaxy"
This is apart of White History ! Its not racist.. Its called Pride.. not hate.. When you see a sign that says " Blacks only " its ok but when you see a sign that says " Whites only " its racist ? This is a double standard started by Zionest jews...
I've never seen a "Blacks Only" sign... I've seen plenty of "Whites Only."
That sound flat out ignorant. I don't see how anything racist can be pride whether it be white hating black, black hating white, or any other race hating a race. I think that you need to do a little more research, I would take my children to this museum only to show the ignorance people have when it comes to people that are different then them.
Ok I have spent the last 45 minutes reading all of these posts and I must admit as Americans we all seem like idiots. Racism is a part of our past, present and will probably be in the future. It is sad to see that all races have people that hate a different race especially when there are also so many people that do not look at race but actually looks at the person behind the color. We have so many loving couples that happen to be a mixed couple as we call them. I do not understand this term either, who cares if a person's husband or wife is white, black, hispanic, or asian. I know I do not care because all that matters is that they are happy together and that they love one another. Racism will never end until we can all learn to get along and live together. What happened in our past should not reflect who we are now but everyone seems to allow it so it continues. I love my husband and my children and it doesn't matter what race they are and what race I am. A family is about a mixture of cultures and traditions coming together as one so why can't we treat society as a family and lift eachother up instead of knocking eachother back down.
When the first "alien" lands their spacecraft and shoots hell outta someone, something.... Earths racism will end.
Until then... there are going to be many many people that judge by color.
Discrimination sucks. I am white mid-aged male. I was just given my first taste of discrimination. My company held an "appreciation" dinner last week during admin appreciation day. "Women" only. Umm, I am the only male that works here. Bosses say, get over it. So.... it sucks, first-hand knowledge... it sucks.
But nothing can be done about it, so deal and live like you mean it.
If you see all that.. then you must be there doing the same thing....
Yeah my heart hurts that they have addiction. Meth has been killing so many white communities
My heart breaks for our African family members that are not free to be what they choose to be. The early days of hip hop was so cool. It was cool when rundmc and Aerosmith did walk this way together.
Another CNN news article about the poor black folk in America. Must have been a slow news day.
Most of the early tribe wars in America were against the federal government. Crazy Horse fought against the FED constantly. So did the free africans of the south. And the free Scots-Irish tribes of Boston. The FED is nice sometimes...but it usuallys end badly.
And our African family members brought us the banjo. I grew up in the mountains where a lot of mean people live. But I met a lot of people that felt love for all
Im sad for all the beautiful children of our earth that are scared and uncertain about what tomorrow brings. I feel really sad for our animal family members also. I dont really think our world is dying...I think our beautiful human spirit is dying. Love
I feel in my heart jr seau did not shoot himself. I dont know why i feel this way...but i do. Im not a patriots fan, im a steelers fan...but he was such a strong person at heart. I will miss him. Same with tre. And i hope we can heal and forgive zimmerman. I dont think he truely wanted to hurt tre...i kust think he was scared. We see nothing but bad things on tv and very little good. I want to see good again for every person. Martin Luther King is so important to white Americans because he wanted peace. Just like our American Indian family members.
What does a samoan have to do with this??????????
I dont think its culture based. More of a spiritual feeling.
I disagree with you about Treyvon, Zimmerman had every intention to harm this kid, in his own words he thought Treyvon was a few years younger than him. He also admitted to following this kid when he was told not too. It's kinda hard to forgive someome with those intentions already on display..
I understand Elaine, and respect your suggestions and thoughts. They are important to the Spirit. I feel that myself, personally...would like to love them both. I feel they both have done good things and bad things in life. I will miss both of them in forgiveness. Love
I hope Chen, the Chinese gentleman is ok. My heart hurts for him. Im sad for his mother. Her heart is breaking. I hope we are helping their family...cause i believe he is our brother.
Ya know...i feel kinda sad...i met a nice man that is here from mexico and I asked him if he knew about Crazy Horse of the Lakota tribe and he had no clue who I was talking about. Im sad because he migrated to south america from those tribes. Crazy Horse was a brave warrior for his people. But he also assimilated other American Indian tribes. We all have good and bad moments in our histories.
"Little Black Sambo" is NOT a racist book, at least not the one I used to have. Maybe it got completely rewritten?
Even the NAME is a loving name from Sambo's loving parents, who were Hindus living in INDIA. It was a term of endearment from his parents! How is that racist?
Cause its a book. White euros have books like this also. Its a neat story. More than likely the original people look Asian. I dont know for sure but following the American Indians blood path points in that direction. Love. Die to self.
Most people have grown up and don't care about race.
This is a neat story. but the human genome has been unlocked. If all people moved to iceland and remained isolated for 10 generations wed all turn white. If we did the same in nigeria, wed all turn back. The American Indians are the 7th tribe and the closest were going to get to the original humans. Love
American indians came here from mongolia
Which came 850 miles west of bavaria where the oldest cave drawings are found.14000 yrs old.
Ill learn about it. But only if black americans learn about the black confederates and the black slave owners of the south. Healing is a two way st. Im black white and cherokee...but in reality in just an American. love
Indeed, one thing people need to know is that there is a higher percentage of people in this country who own private jets now than people who owned slaves back in the day. Also, people seem to think African slavery stopped w/ Lincoln when it still continues today. The pattern of the slave traders from Holland, Spain, and England was to foment war between local tribes and have the winning tribe sell the losing tribe into slavery. Many of these families who engaged in such activity back then are still around and do it today. Those are the white people blacks should hate. But few people of any color seem to know their names. And the reason it doesn't get taught in school is because it still is happening and black people don't want to admit that fellow black people sold them into slavery. To deal with an issue as big as African slavery, you have to be open confronting the entire problem. Nobody seems to want to talk about it except blaming white people who didn't even own slaves or aren't descended from a slave owner.
Our country needs love, healing, forgivness, acceptance...and hard work. Freedom is in trouble. I dont want to go back to days of hate an anger. I want hope for all
There are now 13 cartels families.
Lincoln just signed the paper. 600000 americans died to free the slaves. Most were white euros. Theres good and bad in all peoples histories. Those cartel familes played a huge role in destroying the American Indians.
I'm wondering if there is any place in the world where people of different colors live together without even noticing someone's race. I mean, a place where race is not a factor at all.
I am sorry to tell you but that does not exist. Color is always an issue no matter where you go. It is a fact of life. If you can't stomach it then go to another planet.
Really don't see why such a fuss for this museum in the comment section. This really isnt any different than some of the other museums you have for other groups that came to the US. The Irish were persecuted and so were many other groups & they to have some sort of recognition of this either in the form of museums or some other form.
True CNN seems to always be talking about it but that could be because of where they are headquartered... Just like how NBC always talks about some NY related news and other News groups emphasize news from their locations.
So.....of all places......Detroit.......I would have thought it would be in the south somewhere. Anyway........it is a collectors type of museum and eventually many other artifacts will be found regarding racism in our country and they will find a home there! Maybe.....we can stuff Obama and put him in there! That would certainly please many people worldwide.
No, I'd like to see Ole Georgie Boy stuffed. I think that would please me better. Actually, I'd enjoy throwing darts at him!!!!!
Karl – that's with a K and a K and and K, based on reading your lack of knowledge and understanding. You may feel as a nonblack that you have cognitive superiority to most blacks, but the evidence is not exactly on your side, poor K and K and K. Nosirree K. Your second email is so filled with inane obfuscation and imbecility (look those big words up, my self appointed genius, if you can find the library and ask for the dictionary) that nothing more need be said to oppose or attempt to ameliorate your mendacity and tomfoolery. But, hey, if you're still with me, your heart is pure, it's just a little south of where most human beings' hearts are, and in the deep deep dark. Poor fellow K and K and K – get yrself a good lady and pray she can't think at all, then she'll consider you a genius, too, and stay with you. You are a laugher, diude, and I am white.
Racism has brought curse to America and will continue until either one ends.
racism is a result of the real curse- crime, welfare dependence, and destroying our schools.
the racism excuse is getting old. i'm too young- by decades- to have lived through segregation and all that crap. and it's a lame excuse now. when is the white guilt gonna be over? when will affirmative action no longer be needed?
every other ethnic group has taken advantage of the american dream- most within 5 yrs of coming here
If you have netflix there is a great movie called "god grew tired of us" It's about kids from Sudan that came to America and started the american dream.
Americans think racism is an American only issue but that is not the case. It exists everywhere on the planet.
You have a thousand miles of fence that could be included in this museum for a little diversification. Why should our black brothers and sister not push this in white America's face? I'm hoping that some lessons would be learned therefrom. But no, just read the comments in this thread and you will see that prejudice is alive and well and living in America. Anyone who is being honest with themselves would admit that the same strain of arrogance and belligerence that slaughtered the First Nation peoples, that stole their land, that repeated this behavior across Mexican territory, that plunged their country into bankruptcy etc. continues to influence popular thinking in America. The place has a distinct odor to it. No, I believe that Blacks are a placeholder in history for a lot that is wrong in America even to this day, and that "the great experiment" isn't going so well. Too bad these opportunities would never be used to change conditions.
As we are all comparing mass murderers... I did a very intriguing thesis on deadly rulers. Joseph Stalin nor Adolf Hitler can stand up to Isabella of Spain who per-capita slaughtered a larger portion of the global population than either. Likewise, the percentage of population decimated in a week under the Regency of Catherine De Medici of Italy/France gives all three of the above mentioned a run for their money.
b- dude, wake up. cnn does not create racism, it reports about it. cnn does not promote riots, racism and unfair treatment of americans does. if you hate riots, work against racism. if you hate cnn, stop coming here and reading. this is not rocket science, dude – it's that rarest of things, so rare that most people miss it. it's called 'the obvious'. welcome to your world. if you see something you dislike, go to the real root of it, not to your own, personal, politically or personally driven tape loop agenda, and work to make a change. that is what a good american does. if you just want to moan – go to your friends – they'll all tell you 'what a good boy (or girl) you are and how everyone else is stupid, racist, etc. wake up, b. the clock is ticking, and people's lives are at stake, what will you do? whose side are you on? truth, or nonsense. so far, the evidence is not in your favor.
It's time to be the White Knight this comment section needs (no racist undertones intended). Im tired of all the stupidity on here..