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Michigan’s “Jim Crow Museum”, In Big Rapids Showcases Largest Collection Of Racist Artifacts

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Back in the day, there were plenty of strange, racist artifacts that you would never see these days. And one man has decided to showcase them.

Well, if you have only read about such things or watched them in movies now is your chance to see what early America was really like, the full picture.  It will help you understand a bit more of how we got to where we are today and maybe help you understand that racism in many forms is still alive.

Big Rapids has a new museum but be prepared, it’s not for the faint of heart. What the items displayed in this museum represent is one commonality, they are all blatantly racist.  Some visitors have said one of the most startling displays is a full-size replica of a lynching tree.  Many leave, angry or in tears or even speechless.

I think I remember hearing Whoopi Goldberg say once on The View that she collects Black Memoribilia, I think Oprah Winfrey does, too. Any number of African American celebrities have a collection but the Jim Crow Museum boasts the largest collections in the nation.  Their collection spans a time period from the segregation era, until now.

The museum is in a new exhibit hall at Ferris State University and is more about teaching and not a “shrine to racism.”

David Pilgrim, who is the founder and curator, started his own personal collection when he was a teenager.  He doesn’t apologize for the more provocative exhibits. He says, the goal of the $1.3 million gallery, he explained, is “to get people to think deeply.”  And that it does.

The displays are startling. The n-word is prevalent throughout, and many items portray black men as lazy, violent and inarticulate. Black women are shown as handkerchief-wearing mammies, sexually charged Jezebels or other stereotypes.

Pilgrim, who is a former sociology professor at Ferris State, started his collection in the 1970s in Alabama. He shares that he spent more time in antique and flea markets than the people who work there.

In 1996, David Pilgrim donated his 2,000-piece collection to the school after decided that it “needed a real home.”

The collection spent 15 years in a single room and could be seen only by appointment. But thanks to the financial support of the university and a number of donors the collection now has a permanent home, and will be welcomed with a a grand opening ceremony April 26. Admission is free.

Today, the exhibit has 9,000 pieces that depict African-Americans in stereotypical ways.

Pilgrim wanted the exhibit to be thought provoking and have the ability to open up dialog so he designed the tour in a way so at the conclusion the last stop is a ”room of dialogue,” where all are encouraged to discuss what they’ve seen and how the objects might be used to promote tolerance and social justice.

Some of the objects in the museum are a century old. Others were made as recently as this year.

A number of visitors were troubled by a series of items about President Barack Obama.

One T-shirt on display reads: “Any White Guy 2012.” Another shirt that says “Obama ’08″ is accompanied by a cartoon monkey holding a banana. A mouse pad shows robe-wearing Ku Klux Klan members chasing an Obama caricature above the words, “Run Obama Run.”

It just goes to show how alive racism still is in this country.

The Jim Crow Museum Of  Racist Memorabilia is located in Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education, 1010 Campus Drive, Big Rapids, Mich.  Visit the website at : http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow or call 231-591-3500. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. or by appointment. The admission is Free.

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