Everyday objects are on display at the Jim Crow Museum-- from drinking glasses to detergent boxes-- but there is on theme that resonates throughout: Racism.
The cringe worthy exhibition at the Ferris State University displays objects that portray African Americans in popular cultures as pitiable exotics, cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society, according to curator David Pilgrim.
The aim of the exhibition is to teach, It's not a shrine to racism, says Pilgrim, who has built the collection since his teenage years.
Pilgrim, who himself is black, says he does not want to provoke people, but instead wants them to think about the segregation era, from the Reconstruction until the Civil Rights Movement.
Jim Crow was more than a series of Whites Only signs. It was a way of life that approximated a racial caste system. Jim Crow laws and etiquette were aided by millions of material objects that portrayed blacks as laughable, detestable inferiors, Pilgrim explains.
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Many of the objects he has collected over time depict African Americans as lazy, easily frightening, chronically idle, inarticulate and physically ugly. The Coon and other stereotypical images of blacks buttressed the view that blacks were unfit to attend racially integrated schools, live in safe neighborhoods, work in responsible jobs, vote, and hold public office, Pilgrim says.
Through exhibiting these objects, Pilgrim aims to reopen the subject of Jim Crow and the era. He says many people are willing to talk about slavery over Crow as they fear it will beg the question, What about today? But some truths are painful and Pilgrim wants to talk about them.
The grand opening of the museum will take place on Thursday. I am excited beyond words ...I have always seen the museum as primarily an academic resource for our faculty, our staff and our students and that is what it is for a lot of us, Pilgrim told the Associated Press. For me, personally, this grand opening also is the culmination of many years of work, he added.
The museum features six exhibits: Who and What is Jim Crow, Jim Crow Violence, Jim Crow and Anti-Black Imagery, Battling Jim Crow Imagery, Attacking Jim Crow Segregation, and Beyond Jim Crow. The exhibition also portrays a comprehensive timeline of the African American experience in the United States.