Letters to the Museum

A Collector's Musings

For several years my wife and I have collected early American folk art of all types. About 25 years ago when at a show in New England I bought a pair of black dancing carved wooden "jiggers," done probably late 19th century. To me they were just another piece of folk art. A couple of years later I bought a slave document, and with it a history of the slave written about 1902 when the author traveled to Louisiana from New York and just raved about all the "happy niggers." So that started my quest. Today I have a large collection of what, thanks to you, I will now call Jim Crow. Until I saw the article quoting you on the Mexican stamps, I did not know your museum and study program existed. I went online and found it remarkable. And a real education. I plan to log on and read often ... and wonder if you have graduate student papers available. I am now retired but when working, I often had co-workers including African American in my home. Some would ask me why I collected. My answer was that I viewed the items as artifacts of racism and a form of folk art. I also said that someday I was going to research the origins of the stereotypes ... chicken stealing, watermelons, dancing, razor blades, etc. In my limited research I learned that Temple and Howard University had programs or an interest, and I met and talked with Larry Buster who wrote The Art and History of Black Memorabilia. Once each spring there is a black memorabilia show here in the Washington DC area and he is there. As you probably know, he published Black Memorabilia, An African-American Newsletter. Regretfully, he could not make a go of it. There was an earlier one that was published by a local lady and I was able to get all the back copies. Until I found you, I did not know there were any other resources. Amazing. I must say I was impressed.

Thanks to my parents and my careers, I think I can safely say I am color blind. That is one reason I can look at what is hate material to some and cute and silly to others and think of it as some ancient (hopefully) artifact. I suspect that is a tad too naive, given the continuing sad state of the racism that still exists here and around the world. I used to travel a great deal and saw a lot of ceramics, post cards, etc., and decided not to buy them and try to find only the very unique. I have paintings, trade cards, mechanical toys, coon songs, wood carvings, Currier and Ives and darktown material, and some anti-slavery items. I was in a minstrel show about the age of 9 when in grade school in St. Joseph, Missouri, so I have a good minstrel collection. Being retired and having limits, I have cut back. I just hung on my wall two 1900 posters printed in Kansas City on a production of Uncle Toms's Cabin and an 1898 silk scarf of four little niggers, my latest acquisitions. It was not easy, but I found a specialist in very early Mexican stamps and he was able to get me a sheet of Memin Pinguin. They made only 300,000 and once in the news, they disappeared quickly. And they and the Washington Post article brought me to your museum.

What you do is remarkable ... and important, for all the reasons you eloquently wrote on your Web site. I will watch it, read, and learn. I was surprised that there are so many collectors. Around here when I am at the annual show, they are predominately African American.

Again, thank you,

Dan McKinnon
Virginia
-- August 16, 2005


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