A museum showcasing thousands of racist memorabilia artifacts opened on Michigan’s Ferris State University’s Campus on Thursday. The new Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, located in the basement of the university’s library, is aimed at stimulating conversation about race in America.
“I want them to learn what it was like to be an African American growing up in the period of Jim Crow,” museum founder and memorabilia collector, Dr. David Pilgrim said. Growing up in Mobile, Alabama Pilgrim lived with segregated water fountains, separate restaurant sections and racist laws — all of which are reflected in the museum.
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“Of course we get people that say, ‘Why don’t you build a museum about Whites or Mexicans?’ Or, ‘You’re just starting trouble,’” he said. “We’re a free facility, and I invite all those people and anyone else to come. If they come, they’ll get it.” Pilgrim’s desire to collect artifacts that depict the history of racism in America began decades ago.
He met an antique dealer with a room full of racist memorabilia. “I remember thinking this stuff should either be in a garbage can or in a museum,” he said. “All she needs is to have those objects placed in some type of historical or social context. I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
Once used as Pilgrim’s visual aids for teaching classes or public speaking, the memorabilia is now on display at the Jim Crow Museum for the world to see. “I know people are going to experience some things emotionally because there are parts in here that are emotional, but I don’t want it to stop there,” said Pilgrim.
The point, Pilgrim said, is to encourage dialogue and engagement. He wants the nation to start talking about how to improve race relations.
On the night before the grand opening, dozens of people got a sneak peak.
Many of them said they understand the need for people to see the nooses, black face caricatures and rag dolls. “It has to be talked about,” Benita Jasper said. “Children should be introduced to it as soon as they start school full-time. You continue to cultivate it and you tell the truth. That’s the only way to eradicate the evil ignorance.”
“This is an educational piece that needs to be taught. We talk about things that happen in other countries but you have to know yourself and your own history,” James Farris said. Though many of the depictions in the museum are emotionally difficult to see, positive contributions African Americans have made to society are on display, along with large framed photos of Ferris State University alumni.