Letters to the Jim Crow Museum
Dear Dr Pilgrim,
It is rare to come across the name of my birthplace, Big Rapids, but to have it associated with the Jim Crow Museum was both a surprise and an incredibly heartwarming discovery. I found your page on the Museum website very moving, and of universal appeal. You and the staff have really done a great job in building a website.
I left Big Rapids at the age of two, when my father finished his two years in Ferris and went on to Michigan Tech and thence to international work as an engineer. Throughout my childhood I visited the town to stay with my Greatgrandmother West (nee Jennie Dalziel), who was in one of the first classes of Ferris in the 19th Century. For me the town was fascinating for the way it gave a microcosmic perspective on the way humans interact, and in a lifetime of working in villages and cities across Asia I often reference my observations back to the relationships and conflicts seen on South Michigan Avenue in the 1950s. I can also reference some of the items in your collection to the items found on sideboards and garages of elderly Big Rapids relatives. Thank you for the magnificent work you have made manifest in the Ferris Library. It is a real lesson on tolerance, and a large open window to consider the meaning of our personal histories.
Since the age of 14 I have been an Australian, though like most Australians this has meant lots of travel, study, and activities abroad. When looking at your site this morning I was struck by the page on Sapphires. In the last few months a film by that name has become a real hit in Australia. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sapphires_(film) . It deals with Indigenous issues in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, but does so in a way that intersects with the Black American music and culture of the period.
What is fascinating with this coincidence is that Australians are increasingly aware of the racist memorabilia that has been produced in their own country since European settlement in the late 1700s. Images of Aboriginals found their way into advertising, publishing and crockery. All this at a time when the state had an explicit policy of taking mixed-race and full-blood children away from Indigenous parents, to be raised either as servants, or as foster children of white families to "integrate" them. The policy was predicated on the academic myth that the Indigenous race would soon disappear under the weight of disease, alcoholism and suicide. Eventually the government faced up to the horror of this policy in the past few years we have been engaged in a project of reconciliation that seeks to recognise past injustices and create a foundation for righting the wrongs. See this website for information: http://reconciliaction.org.au/nsw/education-kit/stolen-generations/
There have been two short films recently in the series Australia on Trial that may be of interest to you.
The Massacre at Myall Creek tells of a trial of white stockmen for the killing of a large clan of Indigenous men women and children. The crime was a capital offence and pitted the interests of landgrabbers against some progressive officials who wanted to enforce the rule of law.
The Eureka 13 is interesting because a central character was an African American miner who took part in a rebellion against the miners tax, and was accused of shooting at and possibly killing a policeman. The defence used racial stereotypes to win his acquittal on grounds of diminished responsibility. You can download these films here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2180697/episodes
I wish you the best for carrying on your work. Each year I come to the US for the Population Association of America meetings, but have not been in Big Rapids for a couple of decades. If ever I do get within driving distance I will certainly try to drop by to see the Museum.
Best regards, Terry Hull
Emeritus Professor Terence H. Hull Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute,
The Australian National University
-- October 28, 2012